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Mideast Peace Expedition Conquers Previously-Unclimbed Antarctica Mountain - 2004-01-21

A joint expedition by Israelis and Palestinians has conquered a mountain in Antarctica and named it in honor of those striving for reconciliation in the Middle East.

Palestinian and Israeli flags are flying side-by-side at the summit of a previously unclimbed mountain in Antarctica.

The flags were planted by a team of four Palestinians and four Israelis when they reached the summit late Thursday.

Some members of the unlikely team broke down in tears when they reached the top of what they named "The Mountain of Israeli-Palestinian Friendship."

The climbing expedition is known as "Breaking the Ice." It was sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace, named after former prime minister Shimon Peres.

Team members read out a proclamation on the mountain top. It said by reaching the summit "we have proven that Palestinians and Israelis can co-operate with another with mutual respect and trust."

The proclamation also rejected the use of violence as a solution to the problems between the two sides.

During the 15 days it took the climbers to travel to the Antarctic and trek to the mountain, the drafting of the statement proved almost as difficult as the expedition itself.

They argued over Israel's building of a West Bank security barrier, the status of holy sites in Jerusalem and the long-running Palestinian uprising. In the end, they agreed that the proclamation should reflect human values and not political concerns.

One of those taking part, Palestinian journalist Ziad Darwish, says he was deeply moved by the accomplishment, but wondered why the two peoples could not accomplish an end to their fighting back home.

An Israeli group member, Doron Erel, says the participants are not so naďve that they believe climbing mountains will bring peace to the Middle East.

But, he says, their achievement does demonstrate what Israelis and Palestinians are "capable of doing when they set their minds on it."