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International Diplomats Seek to Revive Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

International efforts to revive the Middle East peace process have grown following the death of Yasser Arafat and the rise of moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as his most likely successor in elections on January 9. Efforts to re-invigorate the peace process have included visits to the region this week by senior American, Russian and British diplomats.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is the most recent senior diplomat to come here. His principle task is to work with both sides on ways to help with Palestinian elections.

Israel has said it will do whatever it can to facilitate the voting so long as its security is not at risk. Mr. Straw is also seeking assurances that the Palestinians do more to rein in Palestinian militants and stop attacks on Israel.

The British diplomat's visit follows a trip here over the weekend by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Mr. Lavrov arrived Tuesday following a meeting of the so-called Middle East quartet in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh. He said the Unites States, the United Nations, the EU and Russia agree there are new opportunities for peace following the death of Yasser Arafat.

"There is an emerging common understanding that we must seize the unique opportunity of the current situation, that we should all encourage the orderly preparation of Palestinian elections and assist them in whatever way each of us can," he said.

Palestinian officials have said they welcome this renewed commitment from the international community but that it must extend to more than just helping with elections.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, says the international community must also pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory and stop its targeted killings of Palestinian militants.

And there is more.

Mahmoud Abbas, the man seen as the leading contender for the Palestinian presidency, has vowed never to give up on Yasser Arafat's principles, including the demand that Israel recognize the "right of return" of all Palestinian refugees - something Israel has said it will never accept. Mr. Abbas told a session of parliament on Tuesday "we will not rest until the right of return of our people is achieved and the tragedy of the diaspora ends."

Palestinian insistence on the issue was the main reason peace talks collapsed in 2000. Since then President Bush has accepted the Israeli position that Palestinians should be allowed into any new Palestinian state but not allowed to return to their family homes in what is now Israel.