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Europeans Welcome Middle East Truce

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was among a number of European figures who praised the Israeli-Palestinian truce on Tuesday.


After over four years of conflict, Abbas and Sharon agree on a truce

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder welcomed the ceasefire announced by Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday as an important step on the road to peace in the Middle East.

"I am pleased with the modest, but nevertheless important progress," he said, adding that he hoped it would allow both parties to move forward. Schröder also praised the United States' new commitment to the region.

The EU's external relations commissioner also welcomed the decision by Palestinian and Israeli leaders to put an end to violence in the Middle East.

"This truce is a message of hope, which improves the chances for peace built on a two-state solution," Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

Außenminister Benita Ferrero-Waldner Österreich

Benita Ferrero-Waldner

"The courage and the leadership shown by both sides today has to be the beginning of mutual attempts to implement the international peace plan," Ferrero-Waldner added, referring to the so-called road map to peace.

She also said the EU was willing to offer €250 million ($320 million) in financial help to move forward with the process.

Solana urges leaders to grab opportunity

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana hailed the summit between Sharon and Abbas and urged them to press on
toward the "dream" of peace, adding that the opportunity to relaunch the so-called Mideast Road Map for peace "must not be missed."

Javier Solana

Javier Solana.

"We would like to congratulate both Abbas and Sharon for the courage of having this meeting," he said after the landmark meeting. Solana added that the European Union wants to "encourage them to continue and engage in a dialogue that should continue in order to get the realisation of the dream of so many people of having peace."

In a statement Solana expressed his "deep satisfaction" at the Abbas-Sharon meeting, the first top-level summit in more than four years, putting the seal on a growing rapprochement after the death of Yasser Arafat on November 11.

"The meeting proves that there is indeed an opportunity for
peace and that the parties are determined to sieze it in a spirit of understanding and cooperation. This opportunity must not be missed," said Solana.

"I strongly encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to pursue the way of dialogue and negotiation. The EU is committed to accompanying the parties in their efforts with the aim of achieving... a negotiated two-state solution resulting in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable
Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours," he added.

Ceasing all acts of violence

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon announced Tuesday they had agreed to put an end to violence in the Middle East conflict.

"We have agreed with the prime minister to cease all acts of violence against Israelis and against Palestinians wherever they are," Abbas said at a Middle East peace summit in Egypt.

Sharon said that Israel would halt military operations against Palestinians and said he hoped the deal would lead to a new era of peace in the Middle East.

He added that the Palestinians had agreed to end anti-Israeli actions and that in response "Israel will cease its military operations against the Palestinians in all areas."

Treffen in Scharm el Scheich

Host Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 2nd right, Jordan's King Abdullah II, right, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, also known as Abu Mazen, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 2nd left, pause for the photographers during an intermission of their meeting at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, Tuesday Feb 8, 2005.

"Today will be the day that marks the relaunching of the process for a better future that will lead us towards mutual respect and peace in the Middle East," Sharon said. "We have an opportunity to turn our back on the bloody path imposed on us over the last four years."

But he said it was a "fragile opportunity" for peace, warning that there were still "extremists" waiting to derail the process.

Israel to release prisoners

Sharon said that Israel would release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. "Israel is going to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners," he said. Israel has already announced it planned to free about 900 Palestinians.

It was later confirmed after the truce had been announced that Israel would release 500 Palestinian prisoners next week. "Israel will free 500 prisoners at the beginning of next week, although an exact date has not yet been confirmed," a ministry spokeswoman told reporters.

Mubarak hails agreement

Saying that the summit has put the "wheel of peace" back on the right track, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the summit's host, hailed what he said was a "positive spirit" between Israel and the Palestinians and said he hoped it would lead to an "honest and serious" implementation of the roadmap peace plan.

"This meeting is an important stop and long-awaited positive development," Mubarak said after talks with Sharon and Abbas. Jordan's King Abdullah II also attended the summit.

"They have met to work together with determination to turn the page on difficult years during which innocent people were killed, blood was shed and destruction prevailed. "We are meeting here to put an end to this cyle (of violence), to put things back in order and to put the wheel of peace on the right track. The task is very great, but our hopes are are greater."

Mubarak also said he hoped for a resumption of the Syrian and Lebanese peace tracks with Israel which have also been frozen for several years.

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