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Mideast tops G8 agenda

Reuters | June 23, 2005
By Madeline Chambers and Saul Hudson

LONDON - World powers urged Israel on Thursday to let Palestinians move more freely around occupied territories, as foreign ministers of the Group of Eight met with Middle East peace efforts atop their agenda.

The G8 ministers, meeting in London before next month's summit in Scotland, will look to ease Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza next month.

The gathering, hosted by G8 president Britain, follows Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's tour of the Middle East and will also include talks on Afghanistan and Iran.

Ahead of the meeting, the "quartet" of the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations met and called on Israel "to take immediate steps, without endangering Israeli security ... to facilitate rehabilitation and reconstruction by easing the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza and the West Bank and between them."

The four major Middle East peace mediators also urged Israelis and Palestinians to meet more frequently to cement plans for the mid-August Israeli pullout of settlers from Gaza, which they hope will spur peace moves.

"Contacts between the parties should now be intensified at all levels," they said in a statement.

Major powers have generally praised the sides for working more closely together in recent weeks.

But Israeli and Palestinian leaders have repeatedly disagreed over how to balance the Jewish state's efforts at stopping militants entering Israel with Palestinian' needs to move more quickly through long lines at security checkpoints.

"Israel wants the situation in the Palestinian territories to improve and we will do whatever we can to facilitate that aim," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said in response to the "quartet" statement.

"Our ability to be as forthcoming as we would like to be is also a function of the Palestinians doing what they had committed to do on security issues," he said, noting that a female suicide bomber was detained without detonating her explosives earlier this week.

The G8 ministers will say they see an orderly evacuation from Gaza as vital to renewing peace moves stalled by nearly 5 years of bloodshed.

The ministers will hear from former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, now a special envoy representing the quartet.

He aims to revive the Palestinian economy after Israel's withdrawal and raise a $3 billion aid package.


The Middle East also featured in early-morning talks between Rice and her French counterpart Philippe Douste-Blazy.

After sharp differences over the Iraq war, they found common ground on Syria, urging it not to foment instability in Lebanon.

"We expressed concern about the assassinations ... in Lebanon, also about the need for Syria to make certain all of its forces are withdrawn from Lebanon," Rice told reporters.

Two senior state department officials said the United States was sure Syrian intelligence agents remained in Lebanon in violation of a U.N. demand.

Syria says it has withdrawn both its military and intelligence forces in compliance with a U.N resolution.

The main foreign ministers' meeting has different priorities to the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, next month where Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to get leaders to agree to tackle African poverty and climate change.

G8 ministers will state a commitment to helping Afghanistan in its efforts to become safe and prosperous provided the government fights the drugs trade and deals with corruption.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah will be a guest.

North Korea, Sudan, Kosovo and a planned treaty to curb conventional arms sales will also figure.

(Additional reporting by Megan Goldin in Jerusalem)


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