Quartet looks forward to Arab League envoys’ trip to Israel


United Nations : The Middle East Quartet has stressed the "continuing importance" of the Arab Peace Initiative and looked forward to the planned visit by the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan to Israel to discuss it further.

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In a statement released here late Thursday, the Quartet, meeting in Lisbon, at the level of foreign ministers, said they support the continued and expanded dialogue between Israel and the Arab states and looked forward to an early meeting with the Arab states to follow up on their meeting in Sharm-el-Sheikh last May.

The Quartet, comprising the UN, United States, European Union and Russia, reaffirmed its commitment to bring about an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to work to lay the foundation for the establishment of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security, as a "step" towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East consistent with Security Council resolutions.

It welcomed President George W. Bush's statement earlier this week in which he renewed US commitment to a negotiated two-state solution, and his call for an international conference on the Middle East in the fall.

It agreed that such a conference should provide diplomatic support for the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations in order to move forward on a successful path to a Palestinian state.

It also welcomed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's agreement to be its representative and discussed with him in the meeting the "urgent work that lies ahead," urging the parties and all states in the region to work closely with him, and the international community to support his efforts.

The Quartet expressed support for the Palestinian National Authority government headed by Salam Fayyad and encouraged "direct and rapid" financial assistance and other aid to that government to help reform, preserve and strengthen vital Palestinian institutions.

It also welcomed the resumption of bilateral talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as well as the Israeli government's steps, including the resumption of tax and customs revenue transfers and the decision to release Palestinian prisoners.

It encouraged them to continue their dialogue and cooperate further on the "political horizon" as the "necessary framework" to move forward and urged them to work "without delay" to fulfil their previous commitments and to build confidence.

It emphasized the need to find ways to sustain Palestinian economic activity and the importance of creating circumstances that would allow for full implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access, particularly in view of the impact of crossings on the Palestinian economy and daily life.

It further expressed its "deep concern" over the humanitarian conditions in Gaza and agreed on the importance of continued emergency and humanitarian assistance.

The Quartet agreed to meet again in September to take stock of developments, hear from Blair on his strategy for the economic and institutional agenda, and discuss the way ahead.