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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 06:03 GMT
Europe seeks elusive Mid-East peace
Israeli troops near Rafah
The visit comes at a time of renewed tension
By the BBC's Rachel Harvey

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique is beginning a week-long tour of the Middle East on Monday, with a first stop in Jordan.

Spain, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has said finding new ways to revive the Middle East peace process is one of its top priorities.

Josep Pique
Pique: Israeli bulldozing unjustified
During his tour, Mr Pique will hold talks with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as the leaders of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.

Mr Pique's visit comes at a difficult time of renewed tension in the region.

Spain's diplomatic mission to the Middle East, following hot on the heels of the latest visit to the region by the American special envoy, Anthony Zinni, may signal a new determination to secure a lasting truce between Israel and the Palestinians.

But the signs are not particularly good. Violence between the two sides has flared again after a period of relative calm.

Palestinian boat crippled in raid
Gaza harbour was shelled last week
General Zinni's most recent peace effort was overshadowed by the Israeli capture of a ship carrying weapons.

The Israelis say the weapons were destined for the Palestinian Authority; but the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has denied he had anything to do with the ship.

Then last week, four Israeli soldiers were killed in a raid carried out by members of the Hamas militant organisation.

Israel responded by ripping up the runway at Gaza airport, shelling Gaza harbour and bulldozing Palestinian houses.

Before leaving for the Middle East, Mr Pique told the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat that Israel's actions could not be justified in any way, an early indication perhaps of the tone of things to come.

See also:

10 Jan 02 | Middle East
US ups pressure over arms ship
30 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israel sees peace hope
17 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israel demands 'actions not words'
29 Nov 01 | key documents
The Mitchell report
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