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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 September 2006, 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK
Quartet backs Palestinian efforts
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) and President George W Bush
The US and Palestinian presidents praised each other
The US and the three other members of the so-called quartet of Mid-East mediators have endorsed the idea of a Palestinian national unity government.

The US, EU, Russia and the UN said they would boost indirect aid through a channel bypassing the current Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is seeking to replace the Hamas government with one including his Fatah faction.

Hamas's enmity towards Israel has led to curbs on aid to the territories.

The quartet's announcement followed talks at the UN in New York and a meeting between Mr Abbas and US President George W Bush.

"The quartet welcomes the efforts of [Mr] Abbas... in the hope that the platform of such a government would reflect quartet principles and allow for early engagement," the quartet's joint statement said.

It also agreed to extend and expand a temporary international mechanism to channel aid to the Palestinians bypassing Hamas.

'Man of peace'

At their talks, Mr Bush described Mahmoud Abbas as a "man of peace" and added that achieving peace in the Middle East was one of the great objectives of his presidency.

Today we go to the employment offices like beggars. We go to the welfare associations like beggars. Even our own sense of self-worth has been lost
Ibrahim al-Toul
Gaza carpenter

"I fully understand that in order to achieve this vision, there must be a leader willing to speak out and act on behalf of people who yearn for peace, and you're such a leader, Mr President," he said at a joint news conference in New York.

"Our government wants to work with you, so that you're capable of delivering the vision that so many Palestinians long for, and that is a society in which they can raise their children in peace and hope."

Mr Abbas praised Mr Bush's speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, when he advocated a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

"You are the first American president to have spoken of the vision of two states," he said.

He also said that Palestinians were in "dire need" of US help.

'Softening' stance

There is a growing sense of urgency at the UN to get the Middle East peace process moving, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

He says there are fears that if nothing is done the Palestinian territories could descend into chaos and anarchy.

The quartet has consistently said that for the Palestinian government to end its isolation it must renounce violence, recognise Israel and respect existing peace agreements, our correspondent says.

This latest statement is an apparent softening of tone, expressing hope that a national unity government would simply reflect quartet principles and allow for early engagement, he adds.

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