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Last Updated: Monday, 5 May, 2003, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Bush 'set on Palestinian state'
William Burns (l) and Abu Mazen
Arafat has been out of the picture

US President George W Bush is determined to "move aggressively and energetically" towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his envoy said on Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State William Burns was speaking after talks in the West Bank town of Ramallah with the new Palestinian prime minister.

"I was able to convey the very strong commitment of President Bush to seize the moment of opportunity before us, to move aggressively and energetically towards the two-state vision which he has outlined using the road map as a starting point and a framework," he told reporters.

The envoy has been seeking commitment to the roadmap from both sides ahead of an expected visit next week by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

His talks with Mahmoud Abbas - more commonly known as Abu Mazen - in Ramallah came a day after discussions on the roadmap with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Warning

Mr Burns warned that the roadmap could only work if the Palestinians rejected violence and Israel took action to improve their lot.

"On the Palestinian side this means there's absolutely no substitute for a decisive fight against terror and violence," he said.

Palestinian demonstrators throw stones at an Israeli jeep at the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank
Despite the plan, there has been no let-up in tensions on the ground

"On the Israeli side it also means taking practical steps to ease the suffering of Palestinians living under occupation, to stop the settlement activity and to renew a sense of dignity and hope."

A senior Palestinian official said after Monday's talks that Mr Abbas had repeated the Palestinians' acceptance of the roadmap for peace presented last week by international mediators, calling it a real opportunity for peace.

The appointment of Mr Abbas had been America's key condition for proceeding with the peace plan.

During his visit, Mr Burns did not meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom Washington refuses to deal with, accusing him of being compromised by terror.

'Terrorist infrastructure'

Israeli sources have said Mr Sharon may meet Mr Abbas after Mr Powell's visit, marking what would be the highest-level contact between Israel and the Palestinians in more than two years.

The assistant secretary of state called on Israel to ease its military clampdown on Palestinians to help encourage them to reject violence.

The Israeli Government, however, said operations against Palestinian militants would continue so long as there was no "Palestinian battle against terrorism".

Israel has repeatedly accused the Palestinian Authority of failing to try to stop attacks against Israelis since the Palestinian intifada (uprising) erupted in September, 2000.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Mr Burns Israel would not endanger itself by withdrawing forces from Palestinian areas until the Palestinians destroyed their "terrorist infrastructure".

Israel has reservations about the plan, which envisages a provisional Palestinian state by the end of the year, and wants to see Mr Mazen curb violence before it eases restrictions on the Palestinians.




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