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Saturday, 22 September, 2001, 02:08 GMT 03:08 UK
New EU peace drive in Mid-East
Palestinian stonethrower
Tensions remain high despite the ceasefire
The European Union is sending a high-level delegation to the Middle East to promote peace and anti-terrorism measures in the region following last week's attacks in the United States.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt - whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency - said the delegation will visit Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran.


It is the United States' wish for the European Union to be involved, and they wish the European Union to contribute

Belgian prime minister
He said the mission would call for an immediate resumption of dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, mutual restraint and the lifting of the Israeli siege of the Palestinian territories.

It will also explain the decision by EU leaders to support targeting Islamic militants led by Osama Bin Laden, the prime suspect for the US attacks.

The mission will be led by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, and will include EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and external affairs commissioner Chris Patten.

"The idea will be to see what the difficulties are, and whether they can be dealt with. The idea is to create the appropriate climate," Mr Verhofstadt said.

Meanwhile Palestinian and Israeli leaders are trying to keep the prospect of peace talks alive despite further violations of this week's ceasefire.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is now expected to meet Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Sunday.

Ceasefire threatened

But the ceasefire was threatened again on Saturday as heavy fire was reported between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank town of Beit Jala.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Egypt
Arafat says Palestinians should exercise "maximum restraint"
And on Friday, a Palestinian man was shot dead in a gun battle which followed a drive-by attack on a police checkpoint in the Gaza Strip.

Five Israeli soldiers were reportedly injured in the exchange of fire, which followed separate incidents in the West Bank in which an Israeli woman and a Palestinian policeman were killed.

The Palestinians say they are making serious efforts to ensure the ceasefire remains intact.

Palestinian police are said to be patrolling trouble spots, including the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, and the divided town of Hebron on the West Bank, to prevent any outbreaks of violence.

See also:

20 Sep 01 | Middle East
Killing mars Mid-East ceasefire
18 Sep 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Mid-East chance of peace
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