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Mideast Quartet talks should be expanded - Russia

16:49 16/11/2006
ISLAMABAD, November 16 (RIA Novosti) - The Quartet of international mediators on the Middle East conflict should meet again as soon as possible, and talks should ideally include Israel and Palestine as well as other regional states, Russia's foreign minister said Thursday.

Delegations from the Quartet - Russia, the U.S., the EU and the UN - met in the Russian Embassy in Cairo Wednesday in a bid to resume the Israel-Palestine peace process, in the mediators' first meeting since Islamic group Hamas came to power in the Palestinian National Authority.

Sergei Lavrov, on an official visit to Pakistan, told the country's foreign minister, Mahmood Kasuri, that Quartet talks should be broadened to include the Israelis and the PNA leadership.

"Russia considers an expedited gathering of the Quartet of international mediators to be an urgent task. We are convinced that the leading countries of the region, as well as Palestinians and Israelis, should be invited [to the meeting] to make it productive."

The United States and Israel have not ruled out negotiating with Hamas, which is expected to form a coalition government with the Fatah party of PNA President Mahmoud Abbas, but demand a softer stance from the new government. However, relations have been dealt a blow by an ongoing exchange of rocket attacks between Israel and Palestinian militants.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, who led the Russian delegation in Cairo, said the Quartet mediators' talks were helpful.

"Naturally, we could not expect any breakthroughs from the opinion exchange under the circumstances. But it is important that colleagues and partners showed an interest in maintaining regular contacts, coordinating positions on the acute problems facing Arab-Israeli relations," he said.

Ongoing violence

Israel has been shelling Palestinian territories and conducting land operations this week to prevent missile strikes.

Palestinian militants resumed missile attacks on Israel Thursday after Wednesday's Gaza offensive, for which a Hamas-affiliated organization claimed responsibility; the rocket killed an Israeli woman and injured two men. Palestinian militants have carried out around 20 strikes on Israel in the past 24 hours.

The latest wave of violence was triggered by an Israeli shelling of a residential area of Gaza, which killed 18 Palestinians, including children, and wounded over 40. Israel said technical failures were to blame for the deaths.

Human rights abuse

The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution Wednesday, ordering a high-level mission to look into civilians' rights in the region in the wake of the internationally-condemned fatal shelling of Beit Hanoun in Gaza.

The resolution also urged the warring sides to refrain from violence against civilians and respect rights of prisoners of war. Arab states, which proposed a special session of the council, accuse Israel of grave human rights violations on Palestinian lands.

Israel and the United States had opposed the session, but did not vote on the document as they are not council members.

National unity government

Hamas, which dominates the Palestinian government, and the moderate Fatah party led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, earlier reached an agreement to form a new national unity government, seeking the resumption of international aid, the suspension of which has brought the country to the brink of economic collapse.

The U.S. and Israel have said they will only negotiate with Hamas, blacklisted by many Western countries as a terrorist organization, if the group meets the Quartet's demands that it recognize Israel, renounce violence, and stick to the 'roadmap' peace plan.

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RIA Novosti Mideast Quartet talks should be expanded - Russia

16:49 16/11/2006 The Quartet of international mediators on the Middle East conflict should meet again as soon as possible, and talks should ideally include Israel and Palestine as well as other regional states, Russia's foreign minister said Thursday. >>

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