Wed, Jun 27, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Quartet holds talks in Jerusalem

COMPARING NOTES Following a fruitless meeting in Egypt and the Israeli president's promise to release 250 Palestinians, the peace brokers met to look at the way forward


The four powers sponsoring the stagnant Middle East peace process met yesterday for the first time since Hamas seized Gaza, a day after a regional summit that produced no major breakthrough.

Special envoys of the EU, Russia, the UN and the US were meeting at the US consulate in Jerusalem.

EU envoy Marc Otte, Russia's Sergei Yakovlev, UN envoy Michael Williams and US Assistant Secretary David Welch were locked in talks behind closed doors.

"They are meeting to compare notes on the latest developments, the way forward, things like that. We don't have a firm agenda," UN spokesman Brenden Varma said.

The talks followed a Middle East summit in Egypt aimed at bolstering Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas, who also Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert face-to-face for the first time in two months.

The international community has thrown its weight behind Abbas since his security forces were overrun by rivals from the Islamist movement Hamas 11 days ago after days of ferocious gunbattles.

No official press conference was scheduled after the Quartet meeting and it was also unclear if an official joint statement would be published.

The Quartet had been expected to meet at principals' level in Cairo this week but the hosts announced that the meeting had been called off because of the situation in the Palestinian territories.

The talks came one day after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak hosted a brief summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with Olmert and Abbas as well as Jordan's King Abdullah II, but which achieved few tangible results.

Olmert announced he was prepared to free 250 prisoners from Abbas's Fatah party in a gesture of goodwill.

He also said Israel would "continuously pass on the tax monies" collected on behalf of the Palestinians after his cabinet agreed in principle to release more than US$600 million in outstanding tax receipts owed.

"It is important for every Palestinian to understand that we are extending a hand to those who are willing to have peace and reconciliation with us," Olmert said, stressing that all of the 250 would have to renounce "terrorism."

More than 11,000 Palestinians are behind bars in Israel -- just over half of them have been convicted of an offence and around 800 are held without charge.

Abbas urged Olmert to start serious political negotiations according to an agreed calendar with the aim of establishing an independent Palestinian state.

While the summit focused on boosting Abbas and the Western-backed emergency government he set up in the West Bank after the Gaza takeover, Mubarak called upon the rival Palestinian factions to get back to the negotiating table.

"The resumption of dialogue between all the children of Palestine, and the achievement of a common position that speaks for its people and its cause, is an immediate requirement that can bear no delay," he said.

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