US keeps momentum to salvage roadmap

US Middle East envoy John Wolf held his first talks on Tuesday with Palestinian leaders in an effort to salvage the US-backed roadmap after one of the bloodiest weeks in the intifada or uprising.

    Wolf (L) is trying to push forward
    the US-backed 'road map'

    Wolf, who met Israeli leaders on Monday, held talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in occupied Gaza City.

    Senior Palestinian Security chief Mohammad Dahlan and Amin al-Hindi, head of the military intelligence, were also at the meeting.

    US President George W Bush appointed Wolf to head a 12-member team monitoring the implementation of the peace plan known as the roadmap aimed at ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

    Israel sparked one of the bloodiest weeks of the uprising against its occupation last week after a failed assassination attempt on Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz al-Rantissi.

    Defiance

    Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a parliament meeting on Monday that no settlement to the conflict was possible as long as “terrorism” ran rampant.

    During the meeting opposition lawmakers accused Sharon of sabotaging the roadmap by launching an attack against al-Rantissi.

    Meanwhile, Sharon’s chief-of-staff and the head of Israel’s internal security service were in Washington on Tuesday for talks with US officials.

    Israel is against a temporary ceasefire with the Palestinians, claiming it would only give resistance groups the opportunity to regroup and rearm.

    But US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the idea of a ceasefire “is a step along the way”.

    A senior US official said US Secretary of State Colin Powell could visit Israel on Friday to add more weight to Washington’s mediation efforts.

    Red Cross plea

    In other developments, the Red Cross has urged Israel to lift its blockade on the occupied West Bank, saying it was forcing Palestinian civilians into long-term poverty and violating their rights.

    In a statement the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Israel’s “stringent security measures” have left Palestinians in dire need. It urged Israel to comply with international humanitarian laws by minimising the impact of the closure on civilians.

    An independent study commissioned by the ICRC had indicated that 60 to 70 % of Palestinians in the West Bank live below  poverty line.


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