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Last Updated: May 19, 2007 - 1:28:39 PM
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Quartet for Palestinian state, end to Gaza violence
Feb 3, 2007 - 10:12:30 AM
The US has been under increasing international pressure to play a greater role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict following criticism that the issue has taken a back seat to the conflict in Iraq.

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[RxPG] Washington, Feb 3 - The international group mediating the Middle East conflict reaffirmed its commitment to creating a Palestinian state and called for an end to the violence in the Gaza Strip.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Middle East quartet, which consists of the EU, Russia, the UN and the US, was 'deeply concerned' about the violence between Palestinian factions that has left scores of people dead in recent weeks.

The quartet also welcomed a meeting later this month between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aimed at defining 'more clearly the political horizon for the Palestinian people', Ban said here Friday.

Rice said the peace process must move as quickly as possible towards the vision of a Palestinian state but declined to set a deadline.

'It doesn't help to set an artificial timetable,' she said at a press conference that included Ban, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

The quartet last year called on nations to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas took control of the legislature in March after winning elections two months earlier.

Friday's statement reaffirmed the quartet view that Hamas, designated by the US and EU as a terrorist organisation, must recognise Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and accept previous peace agreements, including the roadmap peace plan unveiled by the quartet in 2003.

Rice said she believed it was now necessary to start talks about final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees alongside other measures outlined in the roadmap.

'It would be useful to have discussions that were, at first, informal and discussions, so that they can begin to address all of the issues that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state,' Rice said, adding that the two sides have not discussed the highly contentious issues in six years.

Russia has differed with the US and EU over how to deal with Hamas. Lavrov said the policy of isolating the Hamas would not achieve success.

'We are convinced that it is necessary to work with Hamas to try to influence their position so that Hamas would accept those principles that were formulated by the quartet,' Lavrov said.

Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party have been engaged in fierce gunbattles that have undermined efforts to form a unity government.

'Innocent people are being caught up in this violence and it needs to stop,' Rice said.

The US is providing $86 million to strengthen Abbas' security forces to prevent the bloodshed in the Palestinian territories as well as to go after militants responsible for terrorist attacks against Israelis.

The US has been under increasing international pressure to play a greater role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict following criticism that the issue has taken a back seat to the conflict in Iraq.

The Israelis and Palestinians reached a series of agreements under the roadmap peace effort that began in 2003 but it stalled after Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli retaliations. The process came to a complete stop after Hamas took power in elections largely seen as a vote against corruption within Fatah's ranks.

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