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UN Envoy Discusses Middle East Peace

The U.N.'s top official for the Middle East peace process told reporters Wednesday in Cairo that, without economic support and political will on all sides, he doesn't believe a truce between Israelis and Palestinians will succeed.

U.N. special Coordinator Terje Rode-Larsen met with senior Egyptian officials to discuss how to get out of what he calls the quagmire that characterizes the stalemate in the Middle East peace process.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the U.N. envoy said that improving the economic situation for Palestinians is key to a successful truce, and he called on the Israeli government to ease its crackdown on the Palestinian territories. "This means the siege has to be lifted in order to start vitalizing the Palestinian economy," he said. "This can only happen if the closure is opened up and particularly if the Israeli labor market is again made accessible for Palestinians."

Mr. Larsen, who is also the U.N. secretary general's personal representative to the PLO and Palestinian Authority, said that, for Palestinians, the most important step Israel could take is to impose a freeze on Israeli settlement building in the territories.

The U.N. official emphasized that, despite the months of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, there have been positive developments in the peace process. "There now seems to be actually a conceptual agreement on what the end solution of this conflict should be in substance," he said. "Both key European leaders and the U.S. leaders, President Bush and Secretary Powell, have stated that at the end of this conflict there must be established a state of Palestine, there must be an end of occupation."

Mr. Larsen, who is based in Gaza, left Egypt on Wednesday for Syria. After talks in Damascus with Syrian officials, he is scheduled to go on to Lebanon.