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Meeting at UN, Quartet issues positive reaction to Israel's Gaza withdrawal plan

4 May 2004 Meeting today at United Nations Headquarters in New York, the so-called Quartet issued a positive reaction to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw all Israeli settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, calling it a "rare moment of opportunity" and a possible restart to its Road Map peace plan for the Middle East.

In a communiqué read by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan after their meeting, the United Nations, European Union (EU), Russian Federation and United States said they "took positive note" of Prime Minister Sharon's announced intention to withdraw Israeli settlements, a plan that Israel's Likud party rejected in a referendum Sunday.

"This should provide a rare moment of opportunity in the search for peace in the Middle East," the Quartet said. "This initiative, which must lead to a full Israeli withdrawal and complete end of occupation in Gaza, can be a step towards achieving the two-state vision; and could restart progress on the Road Map." That plan calls for Israel and the Palestinians to take a series of parallel and reciprocal confidence-building measures leading to two states living side-by-side in peace by 2005.

The group noted, however, "that no party should take unilateral actions that seek to predetermine issues that can only be resolved through negotiation and agreement between the two parties" and that "any final settlement on issues such as borders and refugees must be mutually agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians."

Also attending today's meeting were US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister Bryan Cowan of Ireland, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, EU High Representative Javier Solana and EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten.

In announcing its agreement to set up an "appropriate coordinating and oversight mechanism" on the implementation of the Road Map, the Quartet pledged to work quickly to ensure that the humanitarian needs of Palestinians were met. The group also said it was prepared to engage with a "responsible and accountable" Palestinian leadership, committed to reform and security performance.

"We will seek to ensure that arrangements are put in place to ensure security for Palestinians and Israelis, as well as freedom of movement, and greater mobility and access, for Palestinians," the Quartet added.

The Quartet also underscored the importance of effective security arrangements to any possibility of progress, saying that Palestinian security services should be restructured and retrained to provide law and order and security to the Palestinians, and to end terror attacks against Israel.

"While recognizing Israel's legitimate right to self-defence in the face of terrorist attacks against its citizens, within the parameters of international humanitarian law, we call on the Government of Israel to exert maximum efforts to avoid civilian casualties," it said, also calling on the Government of Israel to take all possible steps to ease the humanitarian and economic plight of the Palestinian people.

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