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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 April 2007, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Arabs form Israel 'contact group'
Arab League foreign ministers
Most Arab league members are still formally enemies of Israel
Arab foreign ministers have authorised a contact group to talk directly with Israel about their peace initiative.

The group consists of Jordan and Egypt, although officials say it is possible other states which have no diplomatic ties with Israel could join in future.

The Arab peace initiative offers Israel normalised relations in exchange for a series of key peace moves.

Israel has said it will consider the proposal of a contact group, though it rejects parts of the Arab initiative.

An Arab League official told the BBC that countries without ties to Israel could take part in meetings in exchange for immediate steps such as easing restrictions on the Palestinians and halting the construction of the West Bank barrier.

Correspondents say the offer to break Israel's isolation is being seen as "very significant" by Arab governments.

Saudi plan revived

The Arab initiative calls for Israel to withdraw from the lands it occupied in 1967 and negotiate a fair solution to the massive Palestinian refugee problem.

SAUDI MIDDLE EAST PLAN
First adopted by Arab League in 2002
Calls for "full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967"
Calls for Israel's "acceptance of an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital"
All Arab states would establish "normal relations... with Israel" and "consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended"
Calls for a "just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem"

Jordan's King Abdullah urged Israel to accept the initiative during a meeting with visiting Israeli parliament speaker on Thursday.

Dalia Itzik is the second Israeli official this week in Amman, following Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's trip on Sunday.

Ms Itzik reportedly discussed Israel's positions on negotiations with the Palestinians and expressed appreciation of the king's "continuing efforts to revive the peace process".

Israel argues that giving about four million Palestinian refugees right to return to homes they and their forebears left in 1948 would end its character as a Jewish state.

Saudi Arabia introduced the plan in 2002 and it was revived at the Arab summit in Riyadh in March.

Egypt and Jordan - which have had ties with Israel since 1979 and 1994 respectively - will try to initiate direct talks with Israel, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said.

They will "call on the Israeli government and all Israelis to accept the Arab peace initiative and to take this chance to resume the direct and serious talks on all levels", he said at a news conference in Cairo.




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