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Monday, 16 March, 1998, 08:45 GMT
Cook's Har Homa visit angers Israelis
Har Homa
The site of the controversial Har Homa settlement
The British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, is beginning a tour of the Middle East as part of European Union efforts to help revive the peace process, which has been deadlocked for more than a year.

Speaking on his way to Egypt, Mr Cook said he expected the United States to announce a new Middle East peace initiative shortly - and that Europe wanted to reinforce American pressure on the parties.

Mr Cook's four-day visit will also take him to Jordan, Israel, Syria and Lebanon.

Robin Cook
Robin Cook: visit seen as 'provocative act'
He has made it clear that he intends to go ahead with a visit to the controversial Jewish settlement of Har Homa in east Jerusalem on Tuesday.

It was the expansion of this site last year which caused a crisis in the peace process.

One Israeli official described Mr Cook's proposed visit as "a provocative act".

And there have been reports that Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, could even refuse to meet Mr Cook if his visit with a senior Palestinian official went ahead.

Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin Netanyahu: could call off meeting
But the Foreign Secretary defended his proposed actions, saying his mission had the full backing of the European Union and was aimed at restarting the stalled peace process.

On Saturday, Mr Cook won the backing of EU foreign ministers, meeting in Edinburgh, for a six-point initiative he has drawn up, including a call for both sides to honour commitments made under interim peace deals and on Israel to halt all settlement expansion.

Last year, Madeleine Albright, the United States Secretary of State, infuriated Mr Netanyahu by insisting he call an end to the establishment of settlements in east Jerusalem.

Madeleine Albright
Madeleine Albright: comments on settlements angered Israelis
The Israeli Government, which regards Jerusalem as its "united and eternal capital", insists it has a right to build wherever it wants.

The Palestinians, however, see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and say Jewish settlement building is designed to pre-empt the outcome of any talks on a final peace deal and must be stopped.

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