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EU Tries to Keep Mideast 'Roadmap' Alive

The European Union has unveiled a four-point proposal to keep the Middle East "roadmap" on track, despite Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's illness and a deadly suicide bombing Monday in Tel Aviv. The proposal, as well as aid for Iraq, and Iran's nuclear program, will be on the agenda of an EU summit later this week.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says the "roadmap" is still the only alternative aimed at achieving a Palestinian state living in peace beside Israel.

As Yasser Arafat lies in a Paris hospital and Israel pushes ahead with a plan to withdraw its settlements from the Gaza Strip, Mr. Solana is calling on the EU's partners in the roadmap process the United States, the United Nations and Russia to accelerate the drive for Middle East peace instead of taking what he called an incremental approach.

To that end, he is proposing that the EU help insure security in Gaza when Israeli forces finally pull out of the strip. But he did not give details of what the EU should do.

He also promised more economic aid for the Palestinian Authority and urged it to press ahead with institutional reforms that, according to one of his aides, would bring about more decentralization of power in Palestinian areas.

As part of that effort, Mr. Solana is promising EU support for local Palestinian elections that are scheduled for next month. He hopes the elections will produce what he described as more interlocutors at all levels for the Israelis and that this will advance the roadmap.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has shut the EU out of Middle East diplomacy, preferring to deal directly with the United States. But diplomatic initiatives from Washington have been on hold during the election campaign, although Mr. Solana says the U.S. government, like the EU, wants to accelerate implementation of the roadmap.

The EU official says Israel should recognize that Palestinian institutions are working in spite of Mr. Arafat's illness.