WASHINGTON - The United States' new envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, will be working to secure a lasting ceasefire in Gaza, as part of an attempt to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. He does not intend to meet with Hamas representatives.
The US perceives itself as being in a race with Hamas and, by extension, Iran, in the rehabilitation of Gaza. Mitchell's entourage - state department employees responsible for humanitarian aid and rehabilitation efforts, rather than politicians specializing in negotiations - suggests that delivering assistance to Gaza will be the focus of his current visit.
Mitchell flew to Europe, Monday, on his way to visit several states in the region. The focus according to the state department US State Department is to listen to the leaders with whom he will meet. The meetings will deal with the regional peace process and the situation in Gaza, the department spokesperson said.
Syria is not on his itinerary at the moment, although this could change. Currently the US envoy is scheduled to visit Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
In a daily briefing, State Department Spokesman Robert Wood said the new administration is striving to expedite a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and its neighbors, adding that Mitchell's arrival is meant to facilitate such a process.
'Progress that is concretely'
Specifically, Wood referenced the goals of supporting the current ceasefire, preventing arms trafficking into Gaza, preventing Hamas rearmament, coordinating the opening of crossings between Gaza and Israel and developing a mechanism to facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid to Gazans, all with the ultimate goal of promoting the peace process.
In reference to Mitchell's visit, US President Barack Obama said he was dispatching Mitchell aware there would be no overnight success, but with greater hope for progress in establishing an Israeli-Palestinian peace because the administration was "engaging in an early fashion."
"Sen. Mitchell is fully empowered by me and (US Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton," Obama said after a meeting between him, Clinton and Mitchell, prior to the latter's departure. "When he speaks, he speaks for us.
"The cause of peace in the Middle East is important to the United States and our national interests. It's important to me personally," Obama said, adding "the charge that Sen. Mitchell has is to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress. When I say progress - not just photo ops but progress that is concretely felt by the people on the ground."
News agencies contributed to the report