Sunday, October 06, 2002

EU's Solana Meets Israeli, Palestinian Officials
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana had talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials Sunday, kicking off a fresh round of international diplomacy aimed at stanching two years of bloodshed.

His meetings came against the backdrop of fresh violence in which two Palestinians were killed in the West Bank.

Palestinian witnesses said Jewish settlers shot and killed a Palestinian worker as he was harvesting olives with several other people in a grove south of Nablus. An Israeli police spokesman said the incident was under investigation.

Israeli forces shot and killed a second Palestinian during a battle with gunmen in the Jenin refugee camp, witnesses and medical officials said. A military source said soldiers shot at gunmen who fired on one of their units.

Solana said before arriving in the region Saturday that he would emphasize the need for Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks stalled since 2000 and push forward a new plan from the ``quartet'' of U.N., U.S., Russian and EU mediators.

In September, the quartet outlined a peace plan demanding that Palestinians reform their governing authority and Israel withdraw troops from West Bank cities, aiming at a final peace settlement in three years.

U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns was also due to visit within days amid fresh tension with Palestinians over a new U.S. law requiring the administration to stipulate on documents that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

Solana met Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres Sunday and was due to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat Monday.

Ben-Eliezer told Solana he wanted the EU to pressure Palestinians to prevent militants from attacking Israelis in their two-year-old uprising against occupation, army radio said.

Arafat's security adviser Mohammad Dahlan told reporters after talks with Solana in Gaza that the EU official and Arafat would ``review the steps Israel has taken to destroy peace efforts and the ongoing attacks on the Palestinian people.''

Arafat signed a law Saturday declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of a future independent Palestinian state, facing off against the new U.S. bill signed into law by President Bush last week.

The White House has since stressed the law does not change its policy that the future of Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as a capital, should be determined in peace negotiations.

The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Sunday discussed the U.S. law, which Palestinians and other Arabs denounce as backing Israel's claims to the city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

``This step shows that the U.S. administration is turning its back on the peace process that it sponsors and on the bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestinians,'' PLC speaker Ahmed Korei said.