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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 16:35 GMT
Support grows for Mid-East peace plan
Solana met the Palestinian leader on Monday
Intensive diplomatic efforts are under way to try to persuade the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after weeks of intensified violence.

President George W Bush has praised a peace plan put forward by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and thanked him for his initiative.

The EU has also put its weight behind the plan, and its foreign policy chief Javier Solana is planning to fly to Jeddah on Wednesday for a meeting with the crown prince - de facto ruler of the desert kingdom.

Saudi peace plan
Full Israeli withdrawal from West Bank, Gaza Strip and part of Jerusalem
Israeli sovereignty over Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City
Arab recognition of Israel
Mr Solana said that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had expressed a readiness to discuss the initiative with any Saudi leader.

Earlier Palestinian Authority officials gave the plan their full backing.

The Saudi plan involves Arab recognition of Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian security chiefs, meanwhile, are to resume talks with Israeli officials on Tuesday following an order from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

At the United Nations, Arab diplomats presented a draft resolution for discussion later on Tuesday, based on the Saudi proposals.

Clarification sought

The EU envoy will be the highest ranking diplomat to discuss the plan in a face-to-face meeting with Prince Abdullah since it was publicised in the New York Times on 17 February.

Crown Prince Abdullah discussed his plan with President Bush

"Mr Solana would like to hear from Crown Prince Abdullah the ideas he has in mind," an EU spokeswoman said.

Earlier, in talks with Mr Solana, Yasser Arafat said he "appreciated and supported completely" the Saudi initiative.

Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the plan was a "positive development", while Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said it "must not be rejected".

Israeli offer 'rejected'

Israeli President Moshe Katsav offered on Monday to discuss the plan with Saudi leaders either in Saudi Arabia or in Israel.

Israel's president offered to visit Saudi Arabia
However, the state-run Saudi newspaper al-Watan said in an editorial Tuesday no such meeting would take place until after a regional peace agreement had been reached.

The crown prince said he planned to present his proposals at a meeting of the Arab League in Beirut, Lebanon, next month, but shelved the plan after recent Israeli attacks on Palestinians.

In a move towards reducing the violence, Palestinian officials said Palestinian Preventative Security chief Mohammed Dahlan, his West Bank counterpart, Jibril Rajoub, and the head of Palestinian intelligence, Amin al-Hindi, will hold security talks with Israel in Tel Aviv later on Tuesday.

Yasser Arafat cancelled the last meeting which was scheduled to take place on Sunday after Israel decided against allowing him to leave Ramallah, where he has been confined since December.

The BBC's Nick Childs
"The plan is suddenly attracting interest"
US Council on Foreign Relations' Judith Kipper
"There is a lot of positioning at the moment"
Javier Solana, EU external affairs commissioner
"This is an opportunity that has to be taken"
Salah Abdel Shafi, Palestinian Analyst
"I think this is a very significant political development"
See also:

26 Feb 02 | Middle East
Arafat backs new security talks
25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Fresh attacks target Israeli civilians
25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israeli president seeks Saudi talks
25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Arafat survives Israeli incarceration
26 Feb 02 | Middle East
Pregnant women under fire
26 Feb 02 | Middle East
Saudi peace initiative takes root
26 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel jails dissenting soldiers
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