News and Information

Israel offers UK key peace role
November 24, 2004
The UK can play a key role in helping Israel and the Palestinians achieve a lasting peace, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has said.

Speaking after talks with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Mr Shalom said Britain had a "very, very balanced attitude" to the decades-old conflict.

Mr Straw, who is visiting Israel, has affirmed his support for the US-backed roadmap for peace.

He is scheduled to hold talks with Palestinian leaders on Thursday.

He will also meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who cancelled an engagement with him on Wednesday, citing health reasons.

The US, which has traditionally acted as a broker in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, has attracted criticism in Arab countries for its apparent bias towards the Jewish state.

'Engine of trouble'

Mr Shalom spoke of the need for a "bridge" between the Israelis and the Palestinians, adding that prospects for peace were better "than they have been for many years".

Yasser Arafat

The post-Arafat world

Palestinians are set to elect a new president in January, following the death of veteran leader Yasser Arafat earlier this month.

Britain has said it will do all it can to aid the electoral process.

Mr Shalom welcomed Mr Straw's offer of election monitors.

During his visit, Mr Straw is expected to ask the Israeli government about its plan to withdraw Israeli forces from Gaza.

He told reporters that solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute was his highest priority, describing it as "the engine of so much trouble around the world".

Wreath laying

On Thursday, Mr Straw is due to meet the new head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.

Reform of the Palestinian security apparatus is expected to dominate the agenda.

Mr Straw will also lay a wreath on Mr Arafat's grave in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell earlier this week obtained a pledge from Israel to loosen restrictions on Palestinians' travel so they could campaign for the presidential election.


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