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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 November 2006, 14:45 GMT
Spain unveils Mid-East peace plan
French President Jacques Chirac (left) and Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
Mr Zapatero [right] is playing host to French President Chirac
Spain, Italy and France are to launch a new Middle East peace initiative, Spain's prime minister has said.

"Peace between Israel and the Palestinians means to a large extent peace on the international scene," Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said.

He said a plan would be put to an EU summit in December and he hoped it would be backed by the UK and Germany.

The proposal would include an immediate ceasefire and the formation of a Palestinian unity government.

The other three components of the plan would involve an exchange of prisoners, talks between Israel's prime minister and the Palestinian Authority president and an international mission in Gaza to monitor a ceasefire.

The announcement came amid fresh violence in the region.

Israeli troops in the West Bank say they have killed a Palestinian militant, a day after a wave of militant rocket fire from Gaza killed an Israeli woman in the Israeli town of Sderot and seriously wounded two men.

'Dramatic situation'

Mr Zapatero, currently playing host to French President Jacques Chirac, called for a major international conference on Middle East peace.

Violence has reached a level of deterioration that requires determined, urgent action by the international community
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

"We cannot remain impassive in the face of the horror that continues to unfold before our eyes," Mr Zapatero said.

"Violence has reached a level of deterioration that requires determined, urgent action by the international community."

For his part, Mr Chirac said the EU had to act in the face of "the increasingly dramatic situation".

"We are going to act jointly with the Spanish and Italian governments, with the co-operation of the EU... to try to initiate the indispensable moral and political reforms in the Middle East," he added.

There was no immediate reaction from Israel, the Palestinians or Washington.

Raids and rows

The peace move comes after a major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza aimed at ending militant rocket fire into Israel.

More than 80 Palestinians were killed in the operation and the period immediately after it, many of them civilians.

On Wednesday, a Palestinian rocket fired into Israel killed an Israeli woman and seriously injured two men.

Israeli forces have made regular incursions into Gaza and the West Bank since the capture of an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants on 25 June.

Fourteen months ago Israel withdrew its settlers and military bases from the Gaza Strip, which it occupied in 1967.

The violence comes amid Palestinian political wrangling over the formation of a unity government.

Hamas and Fatah have been deadlocked for months over the formation of a government acceptable to the West.

Foreign donors, including the US and the European Union, have boycotted the Palestinian government over Hamas' refusal to recognise Israel or to renounce violence.

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