G8, Quartet press Israel on easing restrictions for Palestinians

By Reuters


Sivan 16, 5765

LONDON - World powers urged Israel on Thursday to let Palestinians move more freely around the territories, as foreign ministers of the Group of Eight met with Middle East peace efforts atop their agenda.

The ministers, hosted by G8 president Britain before next month's summit in Scotland, sought to ease Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza and included talks on Afghanistan and Iran.

Ahead of the meeting, the quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations urged Israel "to take immediate steps, without endangering Israeli security... to facilitate rehabilitation and reconstruction by easing the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza and the West Bank and between them."

The mediators also said Israel and Palestinians should meet more frequently to cement plans for Israel's pullout from Gaza this August, which they hope will spur peace moves.

Quartet special envoy James Wolfensohn, a former World Bank president, said he was encouraged by the way Israelis and Palestinians were cooperating on practical problems, such as linking Gaza to the rest of the world.

"We have moved from trying to set an agenda to trying to deal with real issues," Wolfensohn told reporters after addressing G8 foreign ministers.

"While there are bumps in the road, I am infinitely more optimistic today than I was two weeks ago," he said.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman responded to the quartet by saying it would do what it could to facilitate its aim of improving the situation in Palestinian territories.

He said Israel's actions depended on Palestinians fulfilling commitments on security, noting that a female suicide bomber was detained without detonating her explosives earlier this week.

The G8 ministers see an orderly evacuation from Gaza as vital to renewing peace moves stalled by nearly 5 years of bloodshed.

Wolfensohn, charged with reviving the Palestinian economy after the withdrawal, presented two ideas to foreign ministers.

He wants a Palestinian aid package during and directly after the pullout, for jobs, houses and infrastructure. He also sought backing for a three-year program to create state institutions.

"I got evidence of support that my approach was correct and I hope to come up with numbers in the next few weeks," he said.