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Italian leader Berlusconi pledges aid for Gaza Strip

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Italy's Prime Minister said on Thursday that his country is prepared to send troops into the Gaza Strip devastated by Israel's three-week offensive to help tackle arms smuggling in the enclave.
ROME, January 22 (RIA Novosti) - Italy's Prime Minister said on Thursday that his country is prepared to send troops into the Gaza Strip devastated by Israel's three-week offensive to help tackle arms smuggling in the enclave.

Israel launched an attack on the Gaza Strip on December 27, in a bid to end rocket attacks on Israeli border towns and arms smuggling by militants. The operation left over 1,284 Palestinians dead, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

"We have shown our readiness, though there has not yet been a request," Silvio Berlusconi said. "However, I believe that [requests] will follow shortly."

Berlusconi also said that Italy is continuing to provide aid to the enclave of 1.5 million where some 50,000 people were left homeless by the Israeli offensive.

The Italian premier said that many injured children were being treated at hospitals by Italian doctors and that 10 children had been flown to Italy for treatment.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Amr Moussa, the Arab League Secretary General and EU leaders met in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday in an attempt to rally support for a fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip announced just hours before the summit.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said following the summit, that "Today could be the start of the end of the Gaza crisis," adding that a "breakthrough" had been reached.

Italy's ANSA news agency reported on Wednesday that Egypt planned to organize an international conference on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. The plans were announced at a joint press conference in Cairo with the Egyptian president and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who had just returned from a visit to Israel.

Frattini stated that participants at the Egyptian-hosted conference were expected to include the UN, European Union, and World Bank representatives. Norway, which is handling donations for the Palestinians, and Italy, currently chairing the G8, are also expected to attend.

Frattini also said that "Italy plans to bring other G8 countries" to the conference.

Israel has now pulled all of its troops out of Gaza, the Israeli army's press service said on Wednesday.

An Israeli military statement said that the last Israeli Defense Forces troops had left the Gaza Strip before dawn. However, Israel soldiers remain deployed near the border with Gaza.

Nine Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting.

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