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Middle East Peace Process High on Davos Agenda

The World Economic Forum says moves toward peace in the Middle East will be high on the agenda at its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

The newly-elected president of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mahmoud Abbas, is expected to attend, along with high-ranking Israeli officials. Representatives from 96 countries will attend the gathering.

The World Economic Forum's annual meeting in the small Swiss Alpine Village of Davos is famous for attracting some of the world's leading political and business heavyweights. The meeting also is known for launching important political and economic initiatives.

Forum officials say there is an opportunity for restarting the stalled Middle East peace process following the death of former Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. They say the president of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, has been invited to Davos to participate in discussions aimed at re-opening peace talks with Israel.

The Forum's managing director for Middle Eastern Affairs, Frederic Sicre, says the Forum will take two special initiatives in this context. "One is to lay the groundwork for renewed discussions on the withdrawal from Gaza," said Frederic Sicre. "And we are also taking an initiative of bringing together Israel and Palestine at very different levels together in Davos in order to chart a way forward and re-launch a good will between the parties for further negotiations."

Mr. Sicre says Israel's three deputy prime ministers, including Shimon Peres, will be in Davos.

"We are preparing a lot of working discussions," he said. "And, I think it is quite a feat that in the particular circumstances that we have the leaders of all the coalitions in the Knesset coming together in Davos, which is quite an accomplishment."

Mr. Sicre says U.S. Senator John Kerry, who will be coming to Davos from a two-week trip to the Middle East, has asked to participate in these discussions.

On another matter, officials say this year's Forum will have the greatest number of sessions ever devoted to Africa. Forum Executive Ged Davis says the presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Tanzania will take part in the forum to discuss key issues such as reducing poverty.

"We are looking at the issues of funding," said Ged Davis. "We have seen a number of recommendations out in the world. Debt relief, high levels of aid and so on. This is an important element in the G-8 agenda. This will be showcased. Issues around HIV-AIDS. The challenges of moving forward more quickly in addressing the issue. Governance issues. Sessions that deals with questions of corruption."

Forum officials note the new partnership for Africa's development was launched in Davos in 2000. They say they will build on that initiative by holding discussions on trade and problems of health.