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Saturday, 1 June, 2002, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
UK paper hosts secret Mid-East talks
Israeli tanks in Nablus
The meeting goes against the grain of the current situation

The British newspaper, The Guardian, has disclosed that senior Israeli and Palestinian politicians have held three days of secret talks in a new bid to end their conflict.

The Guardian, which hosted the meeting in central England, also invited key figures from Northern Ireland's peace process.


There is no reason why the Middle East should not take the same road as Northern Ireland or South Africa

Martin McGuinness
The talks produced a surprising degree of agreement between the Palestinian and Israeli politicians taking part, according to The Guardian.

The two sides heard from leading figures from Northern Ireland about their breakthrough to peace and they said they had learnt valuable lessons to take back to the Middle East.

"If you had said 10 years ago that there would be peace in Northern Ireland or South Africa, many would have been extremely sceptical, but there is no reason why the Middle East should not take the same road," said Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander and now education minister in the Northern Ireland assembly.

New plans

One of the ideas discussed was the formation of an Israeli-Palestinian shadow administration as an alternative to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition government.

Palestinian Minister for Culture Yasser Abed Rabbo
The Palestinian minister for culture was among those attending the talks
They also considered drawing up a new peace plan for the Middle East.

Important figures from both communities took part, including the Palestinian Minister for Culture, Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Other Palestinians included Professor Nabeel Kassis, a minister without portfolio in the Palestinian Authority, Yezid Sayigh, a UK-Palestinian academic and former negotiator and Salim Tamari, another former negotiator.

The Israeli delegation included Avraham Burg, the speaker of the Knesset, and his deputy, Naomi Chazan, as well as General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, the former chief of staff of the Israeli army and Yossi Beilin, the former justice minister and one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

But the fact that there were no members of Mr Sharon's governing Likud party at these talks, suggests they may not have as much impact as the organisers would have liked.

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The BBC's John Williams
"The exact location is being kept secret"

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