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Middle East Quartet praises Sharon, Palestinians

Middle East Quartet praises Sharon, Palestinians on Gaza disengagement

Welcoming the successful conclusion of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in a meeting at the United Nations today, the diplomatic group sponsoring the Middle East peace process praised major actors in the operation and urged further measures to improve the Palestinian economy, end terrorism and resume negotiations toward a lasting settlement.

“The withdrawal is an important step towards achieving the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security,” said the joint statement of the diplomatic Quartet – the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States – read out by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Present at the meeting, beside Mr. Annan, were Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and top EU officials Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

“The Quartet paid tribute to the political courage of [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon, and expressed its appreciation for the responsible behaviour of the Palestinians,” the statement said. It also applauded the coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian security services and their cooperation with the US Security Coordinator, General William Ward.

“While noting that the Palestinian Authority has condemned violence,” the statement added, “the Quartet further urges it to maintain law and order and dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure, and reaffirms the continued importance of comprehensive security sector reform.”

The Quartet encouraged James Wolfensohn, its Special Envoy for disengagement, to facilitate discussion between the parties to build on the withdrawal. The statement said it will continue to lead efforts to support the sustainable growth of the Palestinian economy and to help strengthen the Palestinian Authority to assume its responsibilities through an aggressive pursuit of state building and democratic reform efforts. It urged an easing of the system of movement restrictions that prevent Palestinian economic recovery, consistent with Israel’s security needs.

Beyond disengagement, the Quartet called for renewed action in parallel by both parties on their obligations under its Road Map for Middle East Peace, which calls for a series of parallel steps leading to two states living side-by-side in peace, originally by the end of this year.

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