Diplomacy Intensifies Hours before Barak’s Ultimatum Expires
Diplomatic efforts to defuse the violence in Palestine and inside the Green Line, which separates the Palestinians territories and Israel, have intensified hours before Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s ultimatum for the Palestinian ends.
Barak has warned that unless the Palestinians put an end to what he called violence against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Russia's foreign minister were traveling to the region Monday as the death toll climbed past 80.
Annan, headed for Israel in a hastily arranged bid to defuse the wave of violence in the region and put the peace process back on track.
The UN chief was expected to arrive in Tel Aviv late Monday, within hours of the expiry of an ultimatum by Ehud Barak.
Earlier in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad held talks Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, “aimed at defusing the violence threatening to derail the Middle East peace process,” reported AFP, quoting a presidency spokesman.
Syria's Foreign Minister Farouq Shara also took part in the meeting, the spokesman said, then had separate talks with Ivanov, according to AFP.
Ivanov was due in Beirut after Damascus on the second leg of a mediation mission, which would also take him to Israel, reported Reuters.
Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Ivanov said the situation in the Middle East was critical and required extreme caution "to prevent any further escalation in the situation and to allow a resumption of the peace negotiations
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in Gaza late Monday, the Palestinian ambassador in Moscow Khairi Abdel Fattah Al-Oridi said.
"The meeting will take place this evening. There will be a bilateral meeting in Gaza," the Palestinian official told journalists.
AFP also reported that US President Bill Clinton is considering traveling to the Middle East this week for a summit with Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders, to try to bring an end to recent violence and restart the peace process there, US officials said Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, and Clinton would attend the summit, hosted by the Egyptians, the officials said.
"There are a number of ideas under consideration to do that, including meetings with leaders, but we have made no decision at this point," an official told AFP.
A possible venue for the meeting is the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, according to CNN.
But Clinton is unlikely to travel before Wednesday or Thursday, because of the four-day visit to the United States by North Korean Vice Marshall Jo Myong-Rok -- or before the current escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is curtailed.
Meanwhile, France, which currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency, has called on EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, to travel to Syria and Lebanon as the Middle East crisis deepened, said AFP.
French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, asked Solana to make the trip as early as Tuesday, the French government said in a statement Monday.
His mission would boost the European Union's contribution "towards the urgent and necessary de-escalation of the situation in southern Lebanon" the statement said – (Several Sources)
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