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Sunday, September 5, 1999 Published at 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK

World: Middle East

New start for Mideast peace

The deal brings an end to eight months of deadlock

The BBC's Paul Adams: "A daunting task"
The Israelis and Palestinians have signed a landmark agreement aimed at reviving the Middle East peace process.

At a ceremony in Egypt, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat put their names to a revised deal based on the stalled Wye River accord.

Ehud Barak: "Today, we embark on a new road"
The ceremony marked the formal resumption of the peace process, which was suspended by the Israelis eight months ago.

The two leaders shook hands enthusiastically before and after signing the documents.

Yasser Arafat addresses the conference (in Arabic)
The agreement calls for further Israeli troop withdrawals from the West Bank and sets a timetable for negotiations on a final settlement between the two sides.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Jordan's King Abdullah witnessed the ceremony, which was hosted in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

'Peace on all tracks'

After signing the deal, Mr Barak told the assembled leaders that the Israelis and the Palestinians could not change the past - but they now had an historic opportunity to shape a better future.

[ image: Ehud Barak:
Ehud Barak: "Opportunity to shape a better future"
"The people of the Middle East are ready for the dawn of a new era," he said.

"We must rise to the occasion and, for the sake of our mothers and fathers, children and grandchildren, turn the vision of a comprehensive peace into a lasting reality."

The Israeli prime minister also stressed the need to relaunch peace negotiations with Syria and Lebanon and called on Syria's President Hafez al-Assad to find a way to relaunch talks.

"I intend to pursue the peace on all tracks," Mr Barak said.

Day-to-day peace

Mr Arafat paid tribute to the new Israeli leader, who he called "our new partner in the peace process".

Middle East
The Palestinian leader said the agreement represented a new stage in the peace negotiations.

He said he hoped peace would become a basic and fundamental element in the day-to-day relationships between Israel and the Palestinians.

But Mr Arafat said the Palestinians still sought their own state with Jerusalem as a capital, a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem and a final status for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Madeleine Albright:"A great task has been completed"
Mrs Albright closed the ceremony by praising both sides for providing "a long-awaited boost both to the substance and spirit of the search for Middle East peace".

But she warned that the next round of talks - for a permanent peace - would be daunting.

"The issues are tough, laden with emotion and deeply rooted in the region's troubled past. They involve life and death issues for both sides," she said.

The BBC's Paul Adams in Sharm el-Sheikh: Both sides acknowledge that they now face a daunting task
"A great task has been completed. An even larger one remains," she added.

The final status negotiations will cover deeply contentious issues such as water, refugees, Jewish settlements and the future of Jerusalem.

Praise and criticism

President Bill Clinton said the United States would do everything it could to support both sides as they implemented the agreement.

Speaking from Camp David, he said he regarded it as a stepping stone to a larger goal - the achievement of a just and lasting peace for the entire Middle East.

However, the deal was criticised by the extreme Palestinian group, Hamas.

Its leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, described it as a sell-out, and said his supporters reserved the right to resist Israeli occupation.

Wye II

[ image:  ]
Israel and the Palestinians spent several weeks negotiating changes to the Wye land-for-security accord, which was agreed nearly a year ago in the US.

Implementation of the original Wye deal was suspended by the Israeli Government of Binyamin Netanyahu in December 1998.

The latest agreement was sealed on Friday after the two sides cleared up disagreements on how to proceed towards final status talks and on the exact number of Palestinian prisoners to be released.

The Palestinians accepted an Israeli offer to release 350 Palestinians held for anti-Israeli activities, instead of 400.

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