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Mideast Update - 2002-11-27

The United States will host the next meeting of the so-called Middle East quartet. Spokesman Richard Boucher made the announcement at the State Department Monday. He said ministers from the U.S, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia will convene in Washington on December 20th -- to discuss the stalled Middle East peace process, despite upcoming Israeli and Palestinian elections, which he said are not a reason to stop working on the “roadmap” to a final settlement.

“We’ve tried to integrate the fact that there is a political process ongoing on the Israeli side, and there’s talk of elections on the Palestinian side as well. We’ve looked towards elections on the Palestinian side in early 2003. All that is understood and tried to be integrated in the roadmap. But I think I‘ve explained to you before, the attempt is to make progress where we can, when can and try to lay out as clearly as possible the steps necessary to make progress.”

In the Middle East, violence between Israelis and Palestinians continued. One Palestinian was killed and at least four more were wounded when Israeli forces met with Palestinian resistance as they pushed into the southern Gaza strip town of Deir-el-balah. Dozens of militants were arrested during the raid. Later, Israeli troops destroyed the home of wanted Hamas militant Mohammed Abu Huli who the Israeli army said was behind several attacks against Israeli soldiers as well as Jewish settlements in the area. Palestinian sources reported the man was still at large. The Israeli forces later withdrew.

European Union Middle East Envoy Miguel Moratinos was in Ramallah Tuesday meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and other top Palestinian officials. Afterwards, he expressed concern about the latest violence.

“That of course incursion in Gaza that continues, you know, loss life of children and others in the Palestinian territories don’t really help to create the atmosphere and environment to move forward.”

Israeli troops and tanks also entered the Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem Tuesday. The soldiers conducted house to house searches, arresting suspected Palestinian militants in the area, which has been declared a closed military zone. More than 30 suspects were detained in several West Bank raids Tuesday.

The incursions were part of Israel’s latest effort to rout out terrorists following a suicide bombing in Jerusalem last week. Eleven Israelis were killed in that attack.