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Sunday, September 5, 1999 Published at 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK

World: Middle East

Clinton calls for broader Mideast peace

The deal aims to revive the Wye River peace process

US President Bill Clinton has expressed the hope that Saturday's accord between Israelis and Palestians will lead to further successes in Middle East peace efforts.

He was speaking after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat put their names to a revised deal based on the stalled Wye River accord.

Middle East
The signing, hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, marked the formal resumption of the peace process which was suspended by the Israelis eight months ago.

The BBC's Paul Adams: "It's taken weeks of painful negotiations"
The breakthrough came after weeks of negotiations, when the Palestinians accepted an Israeli offer to release 350 Palestinians held for anti-Israeli activities, instead of the 400 they had previously demanded.

'Stepping stone'

[ image: Bill Clinton promised to support the continuing peace process]
Bill Clinton promised to support the continuing peace process
President Clinton said he hoped Middle East leaders would see Saturday's events as a "stepping stone" in a wider peace process.

"We will do everything we can to be supportive all along the way and to achieve our larger goal: A just and lasting comprehensive peace in the entire region, including Syria and Lebanon," Mr Clinton said from Camp David.

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.

'Historic opportunity'

[ image:  ]
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.

"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."

Ehud Barak: "Today, we embark on a new road"
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.

Syrian officials have said Damascus will only re-enter negotiations if Israel withdraws its troops from the Golan Heights.

Arafat: Seeking statehood

Yasser Arafat addresses the conference (in Arabic)
Mr Arafat said the agreement represented a new stage in the peace negotiations.

But he added that 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.

[ image: Palestinians demand the release of more detainees]
Palestinians demand the release of more detainees
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was present at the signing, warned that the next round of talks - for a permanent peace - would be daunting.

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

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.

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