US President Barack Obama's new Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell, arrived in Israel on Wednesday and stressed the importance of "consolidating and strengthening" the ceasefire in Gaza so that bilateral Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations can resume.
But Israeli leaders informed Mitchell that Gaza is going to remain a roadblock to peace until its Hamas rulers cease to be a threat to the Jewish state.
During meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mitchell heard over and over again that Israel will not stop striking terrorist targets in Gaza until Hamas completely halts its attacks on southern Israel and stops smuggling arms into Gaza in violation of previous peace agreements.
The Israelis also said that passage through the Gaza-Israel border crossings will remain severely restricted until abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is freed.
Mitchell traveled to Ramallah on Thursday to meet with the regime of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
On Friday he was scheduled to hold talks with Binyamin Netanyahu, who after February 10 is likely to be Israel's new prime minister, before wrapping up his Middle East tour in Amman.
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