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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
US seeks Israel peace plan response
Israeli checkpoint
The US plan envisages Israeli and Palestinian states
A special US envoy to the Middle East has arrived in Israel for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on an American "road map" for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Assistant Secretary of State William Burns' visit to Israel is the latest part of a two-week tour of the region to push the US plan for restarting peace talks between the two sides.


Perhaps this is the time to begin to present our diplomatic agenda

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Israeli defence minister

The plan - backed by the UN, the EU and Russia - reportedly paves the way for the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of 2005.

The proposal has reportedly received a cool response in Israel, where media said Mr Sharon was concerned the plan did not sufficiently address Israel's security needs.

Correspondents say the prospects of success for Mr Burns' visit do not look promising, coinciding with an upsurge in Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli army raids that have killed Palestinian civilians.

Israel is considering its response to a Palestinian suicide bombing of a bus which killed at least 14 people, including the bomber, in north-east Israel on Monday.

The militant group Islamic Jihad said two of its members had carried out the attack.

Palestinian state

The American peace plan was presented to Mr Sharon on a visit to Washington last week.

William Burns
Burns said violence was harming the Palestinians' cause

According to media reports, the plan seeks Palestinian reforms, an end to Palestinian violence, a freeze on Jewish settlement building and an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian population centres by mid-2003.

It reportedly calls for Palestinian elections six months later and an interim Palestinian state, with a final peace settlement by the end of 2005.

On a visit to Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday, Mr Burns said an end to violence was "critically important... if we are to succeed in ending occupation [and] building two states".

The Israeli prime minister met officials late on Tuesday to formulate a response, the Associated Press news agency reported.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would only say that "the roadmap given to us can be considered a draft and they [expect] us to submit our remarks by December", according to Reuters news agency.

Mr Burns is expected to meet Palestinian officials on Thursday, but not their leader, Yasser Arafat, who is estranged from the US administration.

Diplomacy urged

A senior aide to Mr Sharon said there could not be progress in peace talks while Yasser Arafat remained in office.

But, signalling a rift in the Israeli cabinet, Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said diplomacy should be explored in the light of Monday's suicide bombing.

"I think that despite that painful day, it would be worthwhile to begin some soul-searching and say that perhaps this is the time to begin to present our diplomatic agenda," he said.

Speaking on Israeli television on Tuesday, Mr Ben-Eliezer said Israel was running out of military options to tackle the Palestinian intifada (uprising).

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jim Fish
"William Burns has few illusions about the process ahead"
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior
"We don't have light at the end of the tunnel"

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22 Oct 02 | Middle East
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24 Jun 02 | Middle East
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