Officials of the Quartet for Middle East Peace - the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia - met on Monday after a Moscow parade marking the end of World War II, in what Russia's foreign minister called a symbolic moment for Middle East peace efforts.

A February ceasefire, agreed between Israel and the Palestinians, has raised hopes that sputtering efforts by the Quartet to broker peace might finally bring fruit.

Israel has pledged to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank in the summer, while the Palestinian Authority has held elections and promised to reform its security forces.

Annan's remarks

"We emphasise that this is a hopeful and promising moment for Palestinians and Israelis; they both deserve the full support of the international community," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

Russian President Putin recently
called for a peace conference

"The Quartet urges both parties to take steps to fulfil their obligations under the road map," he added, referring to a programme for peace adopted in 2003 that has largely been ignored amid widespread violence.

As preliminary steps under the road map, Israel pledged to halt settlement building on occupied land and the Palestinians promised to halt militant attacks.

The Quartet welcomed steps from the two sides that suggested these conditions might begin to be fulfilled.

World War lessons

"This is a time when we must seize the opportunity, an opportunity presented by the Palestinian elections and the new Palestinian Authority, and by the coming Israeli withdrawal," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

"When we talk about these next four or five months, it is not because we do not have a bigger vision; it is because we see that we have an opportunity."

Rice wants the Middle East peace
partners to seize the opportunity

Rice joined Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana and its External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner at the meeting.

Lavrov said all countries involved in the Middle East should learn the lessons of World War II, when an alliance achieved a great victory by standing together.

"It is symbolic that this meeting is taking place on 9 May, a day on which we mark victory and the end of World War II," he said.

"Then we united against a common enemy, just as now we need to unite against new enemies, above all, against international terrorism,"  Lavrov said.