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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
EU team meets Arafat in Ramallah
Protester in Valencia
There have been anti-Israeli protests in Valencia
The European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana has arrived in Ramallah to meet the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his besieged headquarters.

The announcement of Mr Solana's trip, with EU envoy Miguel Moratinos, was made at the end of the Euro-Mediterranean conference in Spain, following an invitation to the EU by the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres.

EU High Representative of the common Foreign and Security policy, Javier Solana,
Solana has been assured safe access to Arafat

Earlier this month an EU delegation was denied access to the Palestinian leader's headquarters, but Mr Peres said this had been a "misunderstanding".

The two-day conference - intended to foster greater co-operation between the EU and the Mediterranean - was overshadowed by the conflict in the Middle East.

Representatives of Arab states walked out when the Israeli delegate was about to speak on Monday in protest at the Israeli military offensive in the West Bank, while Syria and Lebanon boycotted the meeting altogether.

EU aid

In his opening speech to the conference, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique acknowledged the meeting was being held "in the most difficult circumstances we've seen in the Middle East in years".

Euromed partnership
15 EU nations
Israel
Palestinian Authority
Morocco
Algeria
Tunisia
Egypt
Lebanon
Syria
Jordan
Turkey
Cyprus
Malta

EU officials called for a ceasefire and an immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian areas occupied in a three week offensive.

The EU has promised unspecified aid to reconstruct Palestinian towns devastated by the recent fighting in the West Bank, but only when the current violence has ended.

Mr Peres had previously told a pro-Israeli lobbying group in the US that he expected to feel isolated at the meeting.

"I regret the European reaction. Where in Europe, at the beginning, anti-Semitism was against the individual Jewish person, today I'm afraid there is anti-Semitism against the Jewish state," he said.

"I shall represent a lonely voice... but the right voice."

The Euromed partnership, known as the Barcelona process, was created in 1995 to foster co-operation in economic, social and political fields.

It remains the only multilateral forum outside the United Nations where all parties to the conflict can meet and where the Palestinian Authority is recognised as an equal partner.

See also:

07 Feb 02 | Middle East
Europe's growing Mid East role
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