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Tuesday, October 26, 1999 Published at 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK


World: Middle East

Cook highlights peace window

Living in the same frame in Bethlehem.

The UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, has called on all sides in the Middle East peace process to seize a "window of opportunity" to achieve a lasting settlement for their people.

He warned that no deal would work unless it brought real benefits to both Israelis and the Palestinians.

The foreign secretary made his comments as he prepared to leave Israel for London at the end of his three-day tour of the region.

But shortly after the foreign secretary's meeting with the Palestinian minister, Faisal Husseini, Israeli police arrested two of Mr Husseini's security guards.


[ image: Jerusalem: Divided city]
Jerusalem: Divided city
The guards had earlier prevented an Israeli security officer from entering the meeting. The meeting was held in Arab East Jerusalem, which Palestinians would like to be the capital of any future Palestinian state.

The Israeli Government has been sensitive about the Palestinian Authority holding any high-level meetings in the eastern part of the city, because it reinforces the Palestinian claim to sovereignty.

The last Israeli Government had several confrontations with the Palestinians over the matter of Palestinians holding official meetings in east Jerusalem.

Fellow traveller

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Cook made a gesture of support for the Palestinians on the latest stage of his visit to the Middle East.

Mr Cook was the first foreign official to travel on a "safe passage" route for Palestinians wanting to cross their divided territory.


[ image: On the road: Mr Cook chats to an Arab taxi driver at the crossing]
On the road: Mr Cook chats to an Arab taxi driver at the crossing
He journeyed from the Erez crossing point in Gaza to Tarqumiah on the West Bank - a route which only opened on Monday after years of Israeli stalling.

The route will allow Palestinians to cross Israel from their territory in Gaza to the West Bank - where job prospects are better.

Middle East
Thousands of people are eventually expected to make the daily journey to and from work.

Mr Cook also visited the Deir al-Balah refugee camp in Gaza to see the plight of the 19,000 Palestinians living there.

Disturbance in Bethlehem

But the foreign secretary cancelled a visit to Bethlehem on security advice after an Israeli shot dead a Palestinian souvenir vendor.

The Israeli soldier who fired the fatal shots said the vendor approached him and tried to stab him. However, Palestinian officials said Abu Hilail was shot without provocation.


[ image: Palestinian prepares his slingshot]
Palestinian prepares his slingshot
Widespread rioting continued from Monday, with Palestinian hurling rocks at Israeli security forces and Israeli troops firing rubber-coated steel pellets at the crowd.

Ten Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets, two of them seriously, paramedics said. One soldier was hit in the eye by a rock.

But the rest of Mr Cook's three-day visit to the region went ahead as planned.

It also appears to have been largely free of the diplomatic controversy that dogged him in Israel last year.

On that occasion he met with a Palestinian official at a Jewish settlement project in a disputed area of east Jerusalem.

In protest the then Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, cancelled a dinner in Mr Cook's honour.

While there has been no repeat of such scenes on this trip, Mr Cook has remained a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Support for Palestinian state

On Monday he had talks with the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat.

The foreign secretary said he held out the prospect of a "peace dividend" for the region with increased trade and investment if a lasting settlement could be achieved.


[ image: Peace dividend promised]
Peace dividend promised
Mr Cook also appeared to give strong backing to the concept of an independent Palestinian state.

He said: "Britain is a party to the European Union declaration in Berlin which recognised the rights of the Palestinian people, without qualification, to self-determination.

"There is agreement in the European Union that we will make that recognition jointly...we look forward to the day when the question is put to us."

Mr Arafat described the talks as "very important, very fruitful".



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25 Oct 99 | Middle East
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