Rice to Join ME Peace Quartet Meetings in Egypt

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the Middle East next week to participate in the meeting of the Middle East peace quartet in Egypt and to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, the State Department said Thursday.

"Secretary of State Rice will travel to Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Egypt from November 5 to 9," said department spokesman Robert Wood.

"While in the region, she will meet with her quartet counterparts and senior government officials to discuss efforts to achieve positive and lasting peace in the region, consistent with the Annapolis process and the shared goal of a two-state solution."

Earlier Thursday an Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the country will host the quartet meeting to review the status of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in the Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheikh on November 9; the same day Palestinian groups begin reconciliation talks in Cairo.

The meeting of the Quartet, composed of the European Union, the United States, the United Nations and Russia, "will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh with Israeli and Palestinian parties," a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

The Sharm meeting will take place almost a year after U.S.-hosted talks in Annapolis, Maryland, sought to revive the peace process, although little visible progress has been made since then.

The quartet has come under criticism from aid agencies, which warned last month that it was "losing its grip" on the peace process and must radically revise its approach.

On the other hand, the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip released 17 member of the rival Fatah movement on Thursday in what it called a goodwill gesture ahead of Palestinian reconciliation talks, scheduled in Cairo on November 9.

The men were released from Saraya, the main prison in the Palestinian territory.

Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, said the released aimed at preparing the ground for dialogue between Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas and the rival Fatah movement have been invited to meet in Cairo on November 9 to discuss an Egyptian plan which aims to restore Palestinian unity.

The two movements have been bitterly divided since Hamas drove Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s security forces from Gaza in a week of fierce street clashes in June 2007, cleaving deep political divisions between Gaza and the West Bank.

Haniya urged the Palestinian Authority to respond to the prisoner release by freeing dozens of Hamas members held in the West Bank.

(Agencies via Alarabiya.net)

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