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Mideast 'Quartert' Calls for Direct Palestinian, Israeli Talks

  • Robert Raffaele

The "quartet" sponsoring the "road map" peace plan for the Middle East is calling on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to hold direct talks to push the peace process forward. In a statement released at a conference on Palestinian reform, the group (the United Nations, Russia, the European Union and the United States) also insisted that a new Palestinian state must be "truly viable".

The quartet met on the sidelines of a London meeting on Palestinian reform hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The "road map" peace plan calls for a series of steps that have not been taken: an Israeli halt to all settlement activity, and a Palestinian crackdown on militant groups in the West Bank and Gaza.

In its London statement, the group demanded that Palestinian authorities take "immediate action" to bring to justice those responsible for a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv nightclub Friday that killed five people. Palestinian police have arrested two suspects in the bombing.

The bombing undermined a truce declared by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at a summit three weeks ago. In London Tuesday, Mister Abbas condemned the attack and promised to track down and punish those responsible. He also pledged to reform the Palestinian security forces - a goal considered to be a crucial step ahead of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.

The quartet urged the creation of a viable Palestinian state, that is, one not cut into small pieces by borders with Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a state of scattered territories will not work. But Secretary Rice was upbeat about the chances for a peace agreement

"The prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians are the best they've been in many years. And this meeting reflects our determination and that of others in the international community to seize this opportunity for peace," says Dr. Rice.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the conference on Palestinian reform had laid out practical steps for a successful Palestinian state once there is peace.

"What we have today is an agreement not just on behalf of the Palestinian Authority which has got to usher in such a state but also on behalf of the whole of the international community," says Mr. Blair.

The Palestinians say they will receive more than one billion dollars from donor countries to implement the reforms they are promising in the areas of security, good governance, and economic development.

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