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France condemns Israeli ground assault

France condemns Israeli ground assault
France in a sharply different tone than the US, has strongly criticized Israel and condemned its ground offensive against the Gaza Strip.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said late on Saturday that Israel's decision to send ground forces into Gaza after a week of heavy air bombardments was a 'dangerous military escalation'.

Britain has also called for an immediate ceasefire.

Earlier, Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged his Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert in a telephone call to stop military action in Gaza, according to the Brown's office.

However, the US State Department, revealing a sharp difference in tone with European countries, said any Gaza ceasefire must not allow a return to the status quo.

Outgoing US President George W. Bush had earlier said that the Israeli strikes were launched in self-defense. The attacks came after a six-month ceasefire lapsed between Hamas and Israel on December 19.

France, which held the rotating EU presidency until December 31, 2008, went further, with Kouchner saying, "France condemns Israel's ground offensive against Gaza just as it condemns the continued rocket attacks." However, the EU presidency now led by the Czech Republic has come out in favor of the Israeli invasion.

Israel's ground attacks "complicate efforts undertaken by the international community, especially the European Union and France… to end the conflict and provide immediate aid to civilians," he said.

The French condemnation comes as the United States has not only failed to take action in the wake of the attacks, it has also blocked a new resolution sought by the UN Security Council.

The US, a staunch ally to Israel, has so far vetoed over 40 anti-Israeli resolutions sought by the council since 1972.

At least 470 Palestinians have been killed and 2750 wounded since Israel began its assault on Gaza on December 27.
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