France condemned an Israeli land assault in the Gaza Strip on Saturday just hours after the Czech presidency of the European Union defended Israel saying the assault was "defensive, not offensive".
The conflicting statements suggested disunity among European partners ahead of separate visits to the region by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and an EU delegation led by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
France, which handed the EU presidency to the Czechs on Jan. 1, has led calls for a ceasefire and hosted a meeting of EU foreign minsters to reinforce the message on Tuesday.
Israeli troops invaded Gaza on Saturday as columns of tanks backed by helicopters advanced into Gaza under darkness, a Palestinian witness said.
Saeb Erekat, aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called for the world to condemn the Czech position.
"This is a vicious aggression against our people. The international community cannot stand silent ... This position (by the European Union's Czech presidency) deserves condemnation," told Al Arabiya television.
The French Foreign Ministry said: "France condemns the Israeli ground offensive against Gaza as it condemns the continuation of rocket firing."
It said the "dangerous military escalation" complicated efforts to end the fighting and bring aid to the area.
Further underlining the impression of European division, a British government source said of the Czech statement: "It is not the position of the British government."
In London, British Foreign Minister David Miliband urged both Israel and Hamas to agree to stop hostilities.
"Unfolding events show the urgent need for the immediate ceasefire that we have called for. The escalation of the conflict will cause alarm and dismay," he said in a statement.
Israeli troops and tanks had been massed on the border for days in readiness for an invasion as Israeli firepower pounded Gaza from land, sea and air and Israeal rejected ceasefire calls.
Last Mod: 04 Ocak 2009, 17:34