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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
EU abandons peace mission
From left, EU Middle East peace envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos,  Josep Pique,  Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and  European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana
The EU mission had hoped to bring about a ceasefire
Two senior European Union envoys have cut short a peace mission to Israel after failing to secure a ceasefire or a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"We are going to the airport because I have to go back to Spain immediately," Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique said.

Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat is surrounded by Israeli forces
Mr Pique and EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana had held urgent talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and other Israeli leaders during their one-day visit.

Mr Pique had earlier criticised Israel's decision not to allow them to meet with Mr Arafat, who is besieged in his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refused the request, saying that the Israeli cabinet had decided to keep Mr Arafat "isolated".

Diplomatic pressure

The EU envoys were despatched to the Middle East after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg late on Wednesday.

They had hoped to increase pressure on all sides to obey a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities and a return to peace negotiations.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique
Pique said US pressure must be brought to bear
But EU leaders have acknowledged that the US will have to use its influence if a ceasefire is to take hold.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said a breakthrough could only happen if the United States took a firmer stance.

Mr Pique added: "A solution is not possible without the United States. They cannot resolve the problem on their own, but we need them."

Zinni meeting granted

America's special envoy Anthony Zinni and the EU's special representative, Miguel Moratinos, have remained in the region trying to implement a truce drafted last June by CIA chief George Tenet.

Israel said on Thursday it would let Mr Zinni meet Mr Arafat.

"The prime minister has decided to allow the American envoy, General Anthony Zinni, to meet the chairman of the Palestinian Authority in accordance with the request of the general," Israeli spokesman Raanan Gissin said.

It would be the first face-to-face contact Mr Arafat has had with a foreign dignitary since tanks moved into his compound.

On Wednesday, Mr Sharon had turned down a request from US Secretary of State Colin Powell that Mr Zinni be allowed through an Israeli military blockade to see Mr Arafat.

See also:

04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Shooting erupts near Bethlehem church
04 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Hain's warning over Mid East violence
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
US sends mixed signals on Mid-East
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Arafat under attack
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli anger after seven deadly days
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