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Israeli, Palestinian Foreign Ministers Hold Talks - 2003-08-03

The Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers held their first official meeting Sunday, in a bid to accelerate peace efforts.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and his Palestinian counterpart, Nabil Shaath, emerged from their first one-on-one meeting with conciliatory messages.

Addressing a joint news conference, Mr. Shalom said gaps remained between the two sides on major issues.

At the same time, he said, his talks with Mr. Shaath are also a clear recognition that a negotiated settlement is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We stand here together, not because we agree on every issue; we do not. We do agree, however, on the need to work together to resolve our differences and to send to our peoples a message of tolerance and reconciliation, after so many months and years of bloodshed and suffering," Mr. Shalom said.

Mr. Shalom and Mr. Shaath's talks are being held in the context of the international road map to peace in the Middle East.

The plan, which is supported by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

Mr. Shaath said security is one of the key issues to be resolved before a final peace agreement can be reached. "Security for all of the Palestinian and Israeli people is an essential element in progress, and we are committed to achieve security, based on the road map and the rule of law. We know the road to full Israeli-Palestinian agreement needs hard work and honest commitment, but we are sure that there is no alternative to political dialogue," Mr. Shaath said.

The meeting between the two ministers went ahead, despite continuing tensions in the West Bank.

Israeli police on Sunday shot dead a Palestinian driver north of Jerusalem when he refused an order to stop his vehicle for an inspection and collided with a police car.

A group of outraged Palestinians began throwing rocks at the police after the shooting.