The Palestinians asked China to play an increased role in peace negotiations with Israel during the first-ever visit Saturday by Chinese President Jiang Zemin to the Palestinian territories.
Palestinian minister for international cooperation Nabil Shaath asked Beijing to create a troubleshooter post similar to those held by US envoy Dennis Ross and the EU's Miguel Moratinos.
"China supports the establishment of a Palestinian state and has an important economic position," Shaath told reporters after a nearly two-hour meeting in Bethlehem between Jiang and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
Arafat thanked Jiang, who received an official red-carpet welcome complete with an honor guard in the West Bank town, for China's backing of Palestinian statehood aspirations.
"China always supported the Palestinian resistance and struggle and its steps towards independence," Arafat said.
"We are keen for fast solutions to implement the agreements that we signed with the Israelis," he added.
Jiang, who is also touring Israel, said: "China appreciates the flexibility and realistic positions that the Palestinians, with the leadership of Arafat, have been showing to achieve peace in the area.
"Despite the fact that China and Palestine are far away geographically, China will still support the just cause of the Palestinian people," Jiang added through an official translator.
Jiang was due later Saturday to visit Bethlehem's Church of the
Nativity, built over the spot where according to Christian tradition Jesus Christ was born.
"The visit of Jiang is of importance not only for the Palestinian people, but it is also important on Arab, Islamic and Christian levels, especially since he comes to Bethlehem on its two thousandth anniversary," Arafat said.
After an exchange of gifts, Palestinian and Chinese officials signed an agreement for Beijing to contribute some 3.75 million dollars for economic and technical assistance in the Palestinian territories.
"I had very important talks with President Arafat today, we discussed bi-lateral relations and the peace process in the Middle East," Jiang said.
When asked, Arafat dismissed an Israeli television report that said Prime Minister Ehud Barak was willing to recognize a limited Palestinian state if the two sides reached a blueprint for a final peace accord by next month.
"They (the Israelis) are trying to weaken our will. Our position is strong," Arafat said, adding that ongoing negotiations in Washington are based on the implementation of UN resolutions, which call for Israel to withdraw from all Palestinian lands.
Jiang said: "China supports the continuation of the peace process on the basis of implementing the related UN resolutions and on the principle of land for peace."
The Chinese president was due to attend a special session of the Palestinian Legislative Council and spend the night at Arafat's residence before visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday- Bethlehem - AFP Photo.
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