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Quartet Calls on Israel to Freeze Settlement Activity

The so-called Quartet of Middle East negotiators has called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity and lift its blockage on the Gaza strip. Meeting in Italy Friday representatives of the Quartet also called on the Palestinian Authority to continue to make all efforts to fight violent extremism.

The Quartet, which includes the United States, Russia, the United Nations and European Union, underscored that the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two independent states.

In a statement issued at the end of talks held on the sidelines of the G8 foreign ministers meeting in Trieste, Quartet representatives said the two-state solution can only be based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, and freedom from violence and terror.

Attending the meeting for the United States, was the special envoy for Middle East peace, former senator George Mitchell.

"Our objective is to gain full compliance by all participants, not to single out one side. We think it's most important to look to the future as we try to construct a context within which meaningful negotiation and hopefully in the near future constructive resolution of the conflict will be reached," he said.

European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the meeting was very positive. It was the first Quartet meeting under the Obama administration. She expressed optimism for the Middle East as long as there is new engagement by the parties.

"We want to have an engagement to go to direct peace negotiations on the one hand and on the other we want to see a difference on the ground," she said.

The Quartet agreed that the current situation in Gaza is unsustainable and expressed serious concern at the humanitarian and human rights situation of the civilian population.

Quartet representative and former British prime minister Tony Blair said it is of utmost importance not to put Gaza to one side.

"We also need in Gaza a strategy and a policy that gets help to people, that rebuilds the infrastructure of Gaza and does so in a way that helps the ordinary Gazan people," said Blair.
Blair added that Gaza must be part of the solution and to prevent extremists from gaining ground the people there must be helped. The West Bank and Gaza, he stressed, will be one Palestinian state, not two.