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Abbas Sees New Era of Peace in Mideast

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he thinks what he calls a new era of peace and hope has been born in the Middle East and that it will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.

The European Union, which has over the years spent more than any other donor to build up Palestinian infrastructure and institutions, has pledged another $325 million in funding this year for the Palestinian Authority. Some of that money will go to rebuilding schools, bridges, roads and other infrastructure that, in past years, have been targeted by Israel as part of its strategy of retaliation for Palestinian terrorist attacks.

Asked by reporters whether the EU funds would be wasted if Israel destroys the projects the money is financing, Mr. Abbas says the situation has now changed in the Middle East. He says there is a new era of peace and hope in the region, and he hopes that the projects in question will be maintained and not destroyed. And he says it is time to be optimistic about the future.

Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, who heads the European Commission, the EU's executive body, says that there is now a good opportunity for peace in the region and it is important to put an end to violence there. But he acknowledges that the EU has been irked by Israeli attacks on EU-funded Palestinian infrastructure and has so informed the Israelis and their American backers.

"We are, of course, very disappointed, to put it mildly, to see that some concrete support that we have been giving with taxpayers' money to help the Palestinian people is destroyed," he said. "So it's important to put an end to violence, be it violence coming from Israel or violence coming from the terrorist movements."

Mr. Barroso says he believes Mr. Abbas is seriously trying to convince Palestinian groups to renounce violence and end terrorist attacks. And he says the EU stands fully behind the Palestinian leader and his efforts to undertake democratic reforms and make peace with the Jewish state.

Earlier, Mr. Abbas told EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana that he wants an independent Palestinian state as soon as possible. Mr. Solana responded "the sooner, the better," saying it now depends on Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a new date for the creation of a Palestinian state.