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Published:June 1st, 2007 07:17 EST
Quartet countries express concern over ongoing regional violence

Quartet countries express concern over ongoing regional violence

By SOP newswire

Washington -- The Quartet for Middle East peace called on Israel and the Palestinians to “work positively and constructively” to encourage mutual confidence and to help create an environment more conducive for progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.

In the May 30 joint statement, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Quartet counterparts representing Russia, the European Union and the United Nations welcomed continued dialogue between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and urged their talks to focus on the longer-term political horizon as well as immediate concerns, such as movement and access.

“Palestinians must know that their state will be viable, and Israelis must know a future state of Palestine will be a source of security, not a threat,” according to the Quartet statement.

The group expressed “deep concern” over Palestinian factional violence in Gaza, and urged the population to renounce violence immediately and respect the cease-fire between Fatah and Hamas.  It also urged the Hamas-led Palestinian government to do “everything necessary” to restore law and order to the area, including securing the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who has been missing since March 12 and is believed to have been kidnapped.

The Quartet “strongly condemned” the continued firing of rockets into Israel “as well as the buildup of arms by Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” and urged all Palestinian groups to cooperate with Abbas’ call for an immediate end to violence.  It also called for “the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit,” who has been held in captivity since June 2006.

Israel was urged to exercise restraint “to ensure that its security operations avoid civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure.”  The Quartet also said Israel’s detention of Palestinian elected officials “raises particular concerns” and called for their release.  (See related article.)

In addition, the statement welcomed the Arab League’s re-affirmation of the Arab Peace Initiative, saying it “provides a welcome regional political horizon for Israel, complementing the efforts of the Quartet and of the parties themselves to advance towards negotiated, comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

All parties involved should “demonstrate their seriousness and commitment to making peace,” according to the Quartet statement.  Such demonstrations include a Palestinian government “committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations,” as well as Israel’s “cessation of settlement expansion and the removal of illegal outposts, as called for in the Roadmap.” (See road map.)

The Quartet also urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to consider resuming the transfers of tax and customs revenues, saying it “would have a significant impact on the Palestinian economy,” and it endorsed the extension of the Temporary International Mechanism to provide Palestinian aid until September 2007.

In a May 30 press availability, Secretary Rice said the Quartet has been more active in recent months than “maybe at any time in recent memory,” and the body is serving as “the international mechanism for pressing forward” efforts for a two-state solution and a comprehensive regional peace.

“We need to realize that there is no substitute really for dialogue and discussion between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and so we have tried to be supportive of that track as well,” she said

At the State Department, deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters May 31 that despite the ongoing violence, Olmert and Abbas are expected to meet during the week of June 4.

“This is something that we do encourage and we do want to see continue,” he said.  He urged a focus on the political horizon, saying that to “get somewhere, it’s often helpful to know what it is you’re actually walking towards.”

Casey said the meeting demonstrates “a willingness and a desire on the part of both sides to have this engagement and be able to move forward with it even though there are a number of serious problems that are ongoing.”

The full text of the Quartet statement and a transcript of  Rice’s press availability are available on the State Department Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see The Middle East:  A Vision for the Future.

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer