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Palestinians agree steps forward
March 1, 2005

UK PM Tony Blair and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas
Mr Blair said the Palestinian issue was important for the world at large
The Palestinians and the international community say they have agreed "practical steps" to create a viable Palestinian state.

An agreement reached at a London meeting covers governance, security, and economic and social development.

UK PM Tony Blair said the accord was not only for the sake of the Palestinians, but also the wider world.

He was speaking at the end of a conference aimed at showing support for the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinians were committed to the peace process, and were doing everything they could to preserve a truce with Israel.

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Mr Blair said the EU would assist with the establishment of the new Palestinian political institutions, the US would set up a security-co-ordinating group and the World Bank would focus on economic development.

An end-of-summit communique sets out the measures the PA says it will take to reform itself.

The 17-page document refers to the goal of a sovereign, democratic and territorially-contiguous Palestinian state - existing side by side with Israel.

The Israelis are called on to dismantle the system of restrictions hampering economic activity, and the Palestinians are to carry out reforms, including the consolidation of the security and intelligence services.

The communique states that "while participants noted that the situation on the ground remains fragile, they underlined the importance of working to establish a virtuous circle and the renewal of progress towards peace through the full implementation of the roadmap".

Co-operation call

As the 23-nation conference opened earlier on Tuesday, Mr Abbas said his administration was ready to work "hand in hand" with Israel.

Among those attending was US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who urged Israelis to avoid taking actions that could harm the fragile peace process.

Islamic Jihad militants in Hebron
Palestinian militants are threatening the peace process

She praised Israel's "historic step" to disengage from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank later this year.

But she said Israel "must take no actions that prejudice a final settlement and must help ensure that a new Palestinian state is truly viable".

She also called on Arab countries to crack down on militant groups that target Israel.

Israel did not attend the meeting, but was said to be watching closely.

Mr Blair - who hosted the one-day conference - said its aim was to promote a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

Participants also include United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and representatives from five other international institutions.

He said he saw a moment of "promise and potential" in the Middle East and urged "key players keep their eyes on the ultimate prize of a lasting peace".

Bombing condemned

Mr Abbas earlier condemned last week's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

"Extremist elements are determined to sabotage any peace process and to sabotage any plans to solve political problems through peaceful means," he said.

Mr Abbas added the Palestinian Authority was "determined to carry on on the peace path".

Friday's suicide attack killed five people. It was the first of its kind since Mr Abbas took office in January.

It is not clear who was behind the suicide bombing, but Israel has said it holds Syria responsible. Syria denies involvement.


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