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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 22:49 GMT
Mid-East peace moves urged
Funeral for Firas Mbruki, Ayman Abu Zunt and Mohammed Takruri in Nablus on Monday
Eight Hamas militants have been killed recently
International mediators meeting in London have been urged to present their final plans for setting up a Palestinian state as soon as possible.

The UN's envoy to the region, Terje Roed-Larsen, called on the group - the US, European Union, UN and Russia, to present their long-discussed "road map" for Middle East peace.

The road map is the only available political tool which can bring us out of the abyss and back to the negotiating table

Terje Roed-Larsen
Britain is also pressing for quick progress on the issue to send a signal to the Arab world that international interest in Middle East peace talks is not diminishing.

On the ground, at least a dozen Israeli tanks, accompanied by helicopters and bulldozers, have reportedly moved into an area of Gaza City close to the border with Israel.

Palestinian eyewitnesses said up to 40 tanks entered the city's Shajaiyeh neighbourhood from three directions, backed by helicopter gunships.

Israeli tank burns after Saturday's attack
Israel is hitting at Hamas with a vengeance after losing a tank
There were reports of heavy gunfire and helicopter missile attacks in the area which is a Hamas stronghold.

Israel has killed eight people it says were Hamas militants since Hamas blew up an Israeli tank on Saturday, killing four Israeli soldiers.

The latest confirmed death was that of a 27-year-old man on Tuesday morning, named as Mohammad Morr.

The Israelis also announced that they were lifting the closure of the West Bank and Gaza, allowing Palestinians to travel to Israel for the first time in eight days.

Road ahead

Members of the diplomatic Quartet have been meeting the UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to discuss proposals for setting up a Palestinian state.

Publication of the final version was delayed by elections in Israel.

Now it seems the US administration feels it should be put off further because a new Israeli Government has not been formed.

But British officials say the road map should be published without delay, amid fears that it may be overtaken by events - a reference to a war on Iraq.

Speaking at a meeting of the main aid donors to the Palestinians, also in London, Mr Roed-Larsen said the Quartet should present the final plans to the Israelis and Palestinians as soon as possible.

"The road map is the only available political tool which can bring us out of the abyss and back to the negotiating table."

He also emphasised the need for reform of the Palestinian Authority.

"Progress will depend upon its credibility as a partner with both Israel and the international community," he said.

Financial crisis

He praised the announcement by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of his intention to appoint a prime minister.

Participants at the donors' meeting have tied their economic assistance to political reform of the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinians are reportedly to ask for $1.5bn from international donors to put their economy back on its feet.

Last month, in the wake of a suicide bombing, Israel banned the Palestinian team from leaving the West Bank, forcing the conference organisers in London to set up a video link in order to allow the meeting to go ahead.

This time Israel has allowed the Palestinians to travel and it has also sent a mid-level delegation of its own.


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17 Feb 03 | Middle East
30 Nov 01 | issues
17 Feb 03 | Middle East
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