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The BBC's Frank Gardner
"The violence still hasn't stopped"
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Yasser Arafat's spokesman, Saeb Erekat
"The opportunity provided by the Tenet document could be the last chance for us"
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Sunday, 17 June, 2001, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
UN chief upbeat over Mid-East peace
Kofi Annan and Shimon Peres
Annan wants deadlines set for the implementation of the Mitchell report
The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has ended his visit to the Middle East by expressing guarded optimism about the future.

He said he had been encouraged by the full acceptance by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders of the document produced by the former US Senator George Mitchell aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East.

Mr Annan, speaking in Jerusalem at the end of his Middle East tour, said he was pushing for a timetable for the resumption of peace talks.

Israeli solider arguing with a Palestinian woman near Dahaniya
Despite the new ceasefire tensions are still high
Both sides are currently in the process of implementing the terms of a US-brokered ceasefire which came into effect five days ago.

Mr Annan said that the ceasefire is "not the end of the road" but "an important element of the whole process".

Before flying on to London, Mr Annan stressed the need for "a clearer definition of the road ahead, with time lines, so people do not think the only issue is the ceasefire."

He stressed it was urgent for the two sides to set deadlines for the implementation of the recommendations included in the report by the US-led Mitchell commission.

Meeting proposed

The report calls for the present ceasefire to be followed by a cooling-off period, confidence-building measures, then a return to political talks.

We are on talking terms with the Palestinians. Probably during the day we will sit down and try to decide the best way to handle the proposal

Shimon Peres

In a final round of talks before his departure Mr Annan had a working lunch in Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Afterwards Mr Peres said that Mr Annan had proposed a three-way meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"The offer came yesterday from the secretary general," he said.

"We are on talking terms with the Palestinians. Probably during the day we will sit down and try to decide the best way to handle the proposal," Mr Peres added.

US dissatisfaction

However, Israeli public radio reported that Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had rejected the offer on the grounds that it could give the impression that the Israeli government had finally agreed to negotiate while violence continued on the ground.

Meanwhile the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has called for greater effort to end the cycle of violence in the Middle East.

Speaking on American television Mr Powell said some progress had been made but both the Israelis and Palestinians continued to accuse each other of not doing enough to end the violence.

Mr Powell said he would travel to the Middle East at some point if the US-brokered ceasefire holds and leads to progress.

Continuing violence

Despite the ceasefire intermittent violence has been continuing.

On Sunday morning, Israeli troops near Dahaniya in southern Gaza shot a man in the leg after he jumped from a donkey cart seconds before it exploded about 40 metres from an armoured personnel carrier.

And overnight a 12-year-old Palestinian boy died in Rafah on the Gaza strip in an unusual incident.

Reports suggested that Suleiman al-Masri was hit in the stomach by Palestinian fire when residents tried to prevent armed Palestinians from opening fire on an Israeli position.

However, Palestinian officials have said that the boy was killed by shrapnel from Israeli fire.

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See also:

13 Jun 01 | Middle East
Kofi Annan pushes for Mid-East peace
12 Jun 01 | Middle East
Hardliners disapprove of ceasefire plan
06 Jun 01 | Middle East
CIA back centre stage in Mid-East
06 Jun 01 | Middle East
Viewpoint: Gazans fear for the future
13 Jun 01 | Middle East
Israeli press sceptical on truce
13 Jun 01 | Middle East
Tenet plan open to interpretation
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