Spanish minister visits Lebanon to push Gaza truce
Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon embarked Thursday on a surprise visit to Lebanon to meet the country's president and prime minister and push for peace in Gaza, her office said.
MADRID - The trip to support "peace and security" in the region would build on a three-day mission completed by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to help find an end to weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip, her spokesman said.
The aim is to help find a "permanent ceasefire" between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas which has controlled the Gaza Strip since June 2007, the spokesman added.
Before meeting Lebanese officials in Beirut, Chacon will stop in at a military base near the southern town of Marjayoun, where 1,000 Spanish soldiers are based as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
UNIFIL has some 13,000 troops from various countries stationed in southern Lebanon.
The force, which was set up in 1978 to monitor the border between Israel and southern Lebanon, was considerably beefed up in the wake of the 2006 war between the militant group Hezbollah and Israel.
After meeting the troops, Chacon will hold talks with Western-backed Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora before returning to Spain on Thursday evening.
Senior Israeli defence official Amos Gilad arrived in Cairo on Thursday to hear Hamas's response to an Egyptian-mediated plan for an end to the fighting in the Islamist-controlled Gaza Strip.
Since Israel unleashed its Operation Cast Lead on December 27, at least 1,065 people have been killed and another 5,000 wounded, according to Gaza medics.
On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and three civilians have died as a result of combat or rocket fire.
At the end of his three-day mission to Syria, Israel and Egypt late on Wednesday, Moratinos said an agreement on a Gaza ceasefire was "very close."
Spain has played an active diplomatic role for several days, in particular since Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas visited Madrid last week.