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Last Updated: Monday, 12 May, 2003, 04:35 GMT 05:35 UK
US urges bold Mid-East steps
US Secretary of State Colin Powell (left) and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen
Powell: Stressed US commitment to the peace process

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has called for immediate action towards ending the conflict in the Middle East.

Mr Powell said that both Israel and the Palestinians had to make real efforts to implement the internationally-backed peace plan - known as the "roadmap" - and resolve their divisions.

He was speaking after separate meetings with the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

"Just as I have urged you [the Palestinians] to move quickly... to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure...I have underscored to Prime Minister Sharon and his government the need for Israel to do its part in improving the daily lives of Palestinians," Mr Powell said.

We must also see rapid, decisive action by the Palestinians to disarm and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure
Colin Powell

Mr Powell, who is visiting the region to promote the peace plan, has been upbeat about progress in the talks.

And Israeli media said Mr Sharon and Mr Abbas could meet by the end of the week, and that secret high-level security talks between the two sides had already begun.

However, less than 24 hours after relaxing restrictions on Palestinian travel, the Israeli army reimposed a total closure of the Gaza Strip on Monday, citing fears of possible suicide attacks.

On Monday, Mr Powell visits Egypt and Jordan - America's most important Arab allies - as he continues to press for the Middle East peace settlement.

Reciprocal moves

Mr Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, said the roadmap represented an opportunity for a real political solution in the Middle East.

Palestinian prisoners hug their families after being released in Hebron
Gesture from Israel - some Palestinian prisoners are released

But he said it must be implemented in full, not selectively, and stressed that Israel must make reciprocal moves in response to Palestinian peace efforts.

He demanded a halt to all Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank, and an end to travel bans on Palestinian citizens, and what he called the assassination of Palestinian leaders.

The US secretary of state urged Mr Sharon to take "concrete measures" to ease the plight of Palestinians.

The Israeli prime minister said Israel was willing to make "painful concessions" but Palestinians should expect nothing more than modest "humanitarian" gestures until Abu Mazen's government cracked down on militants.

ROADMAP MAIN POINTS
Phase 1 (to May 2003): End of terrorism, normalisation of Palestinian life and Palestinian political reform; Israeli withdrawal and end of settlement activity; Palestinian elections
Phase 2: (June-Dec 2003) Creation of an independent Palestinian state; international conference and international monitoring of compliance with roadmap
Phase 3 (2004-2005): Second international conference; permanent status agreement and end of conflict; agreement on final borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements; Arab states to agree to peace deals with Israel

Restrictions on Palestinian movements in the West Bank and Gaza were eased and on Sunday 61 Palestinians held in administrative detention were freed.

Israeli officials reportedly said that tens of thousands of Palestinian workers would be readmitted to Israel after an extended ban, and that about 180 prisoners would be freed.

On the ground, the violence continued. An Israeli man was shot dead when gunmen opened fire on his car near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Later on Sunday, Israeli troops went into Jenin in the West Bank and captured three members of Islamic Jihad, Palestinian witnesses said.

The roadmap - drafted by the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - outlines a process that begins with a cessation of Palestinian attacks and Israel's withdrawal from Palestinian territories.

It ends with the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

The plan also involves a freeze on Israeli settlement growth and the removal of recently established settler outposts.

The issue has been postponed for discussions during Mr Sharon's visit to the White House later this month.




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The BBC's Richard Forrest
"Colin Powell wants both Israel and the Palestinians to start some practical steps toward peace"



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