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Page last updated at 14:40 GMT, Monday, 14 July 2008 15:40 UK

Dispute on Paris summit wording

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert (left) and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Paris
Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas met on the sidelines of the Paris summit

Israel and the Palestinians have disagreed over the final declaration of the Mediterranean summit held in Paris, France's foreign minister has said.

Bernard Kouchner said the wording of the founding text of the Union for the Mediterranean would have to be changed.

There were difficulties with the use of the term "national and democratic state" to describe Israel, he said.

Earlier, Israel's leader said his country had never been closer to a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke after talks on the sidelines of the summit with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Abbas said that "we have no alternative but to achieve peace".

Palestinian opposition

Mr Kouchner said the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians related to the use of the term "national and democratic state" to describe Israel.

He noted that this "entails difficulties in terms of refugee return, Jewish or non-Jewish state".

"There are words, or phrasing of words that are not suitable because they invoke a historical legacy, a legacy of tragedy and murder also," the minister said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said his side "categorically opposed" wording in the text proposed by Israel that referred to a "state of the Jewish people".

"It was out of the question for us to accept this," Mr Maliki told the AFP news agency.

The final declaration was adopted with vague wording at the Paris summit on Sunday.

Sarkozy's plea

Leaders from 43 nations launched the Union for the Mediterranean, which made ending conflict in the Middle East one of its main priorities.

Mr Sarkozy says his presidency of the EU is committed to progress on Middle East peace

It will also tackle issues like immigration and pollution.

The summit's host, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the aim was to see that the region was a place where people could love each other instead of making war.

Mr Sarkozy urged Middle Eastern countries involved in long-running conflicts to end the deadly spiral of war and violence, as European nations had done by making peace which each other during the 20th Century.

He said the presidency of the European Union - which France currently holds - was committed to progress on Middle East peace.

Syria talks

Speaking after the summit, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said it could take between six months and two years to reach a peace agreement with Israel - even if both sides agreed to hold face-to-face talks.

Mark Mardell, BBC Europe Editor
Mr Sarkozy is one of those politicians who is full of surprises because he is always campaigning

Turkey is currently acting as a mediator between the two countries.

In a French TV interview, Mr Assad also said he did not believe any accord could be reached this year, while President Bush remains in office in the US.

Earlier, Mr Olmert said he hoped the indirect talks would soon become direct ones.

Gaddafi boycott

Progress has already been made in other areas during the summit.

Mr Sarkozy has long spearheaded the idea of a Union for the Mediterranean.

Comprising 27 EU members with states from north Africa, the Balkans, Israel and the Arab world, the new body membership will include 756 million people stretching from western Europe to the Jordanian desert.

Critics have dismissed the new union as lacking substance, and diplomats say there are continuing disagreements over key issues such as how to address the Middle East peace process and a possible role for the Arab League.

The only European or Mediterranean rim leader boycotting the Paris meeting is Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, who has described the union as a new form of colonialism.



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