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Mideast mediators urge early action on "roadmap"

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International Middle East mediators said on Thursday their "roadmap" to peace should be put to Israel and the Palestinians as soon as possible.

The quartet of envoys from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, in a statement issued after a meeting in London, also reiterated their call for a cease-fire in Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The envoys "reaffirmed that the roadmap should be formally adopted and presented to the parties as soon as possible."

They set no date for publication of the roadmap, a document the quartet approved in December. It sets out a path to implement President Bush's call last year for the creation by 2005 of a Palestinian state living alongside Israel.

The United States insisted in December that publication of the roadmap wait until after Israel's January 28 election.

It is not yet clear whether Washington will make any move to advance the plan before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has formed a government, or before a possible war with Iraq.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the international community had to do more than make statements.

"We don't want only confirmation by the international community or by the capitals of the quartet that they are committed to the roadmap," he told a news conference.

"We want steps, genuine and practical steps, to stop the policies that are being adopted and the practices of the Israeli government and the Israeli occupation army against the Palestinian people and Palestinian civilians," he said.

Abed Rabbo, in London with other Palestinian ministers for meetings with foreign donors and the quartet, said the Israelis might "escalate their war" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in an attempt to destroy the Palestinian Authority.

The quartet voiced concern at recent Israeli-Palestinian violence. At least 26 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since militants of the Islamist group Hamas blew up an Israeli tank in Gaza on Saturday, killing its four crew.

The envoys urged the Palestinians to appoint a "credible and fully empowered prime minister" as part of institutional reforms intended to prepare for statehood.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said last Friday that he would appoint a prime minister, a post whose creation requires legislative changes, but did not say when this would happen.

The United States and Israel have refused to deal with Arafat, saying he has failed to prevent suicide bombings or halt other violence by Palestinians fighting Israeli occupation. The quartet urged the Palestinians to convene the bodies that must approve the amendments and asked Israel, which enforces tough travel curbs on Palestinians in the occupied territories, to let those meetings take place.

The envoys recognized Israel's security concerns, but said it must "do more to ease the dire humanitarian and socio-economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza."

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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