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'Quartet' Calls for Immediate Cease-Fire in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - 2003-02-21

The so-called "Quartet" of Middle East peace mediators - the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union - have called for an immediate cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a meeting in London.

Representatives from the United States, Russia, the U.N. and European Union have met in the British capital to put the finishing touches on a so-called "roadmap" for Mideast peace.

The U.S.-proposed plan calls for a step-by-step approach to achieve peace, with the establishment of a provisional Palestinian state this year and a permanent one in three years' time.

The "Quartet" peace mediators agreed the plan should be adopted and presented to Israel and the Palestinians as soon as possible.

They also renewed their call for the Palestinians to build credible institutions to prepare for statehood and welcomed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's pledge to appoint a prime minister.

The envoys said Palestinian legislative and executive bodies should be convened quickly, and they called on Israel to facilitate the meetings.

They urged the Palestinians to continue with needed political reforms, including preparing a constitution that would lay the basis for a strong parliamentary democracy.

But both Israel and the Palestinians have differences with the proposed peace roadmap. An Israeli newspaper reports the government is planning to ask for more than 100 changes to the plan, including restrictions on the sovereignty of a Palestinian state.

The Palestinians counter that this move would leave nothing left of the plan but a political vacuum leading to a further deterioration in relations.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of trying to take advantage of a possible war against Iraq in order to escalate the conflict with the Palestinians.