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Solana hopeful Peres-Arafat meeting will take place
( 2001-09-10 09:50 ) (7 )

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Sunday he still hoped Israeli-Palestinian talks could take place despite a wave of weekend attacks in the Middle East.

"For the moment, there is no final decision," Solana told reporters in Genval, referring to a possible meeting between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

"I hope the meeting can take place this week," said Solana, adding he would likely speak to Arafat later Sunday.

Earlier, a spokesman for the EU's envoy to the Middle East Miguel Angel Moratinos was more optimistic, saying "there is no doubt" that the talks would get off the ground.

Speaking from Cairo, spokesman Javier Sancho said there would be three meetings, with the first probably in Erez, the main crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip, or in Taba, an Egyptian resort near the Israeli border.

An attack on a school bus and two suicide bombings Sunday claimed the lives of five Israelis and two Palestinians, raising doubts whether the meetings would happen.

Far-right elements in the Israeli government are opposed to the talks, saying they would be useless at best and at worst a reward for violence.

But Sancho insisted that the bombings would not derail the meetings.

"It is clear that it will be this week. It is simply a matter of deciding the date and the exact venue, Taba or Erez," he said. "I am convinced it will be sooner rather than later."

Earlier Sunday, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, hosting a meeting of EU foreign ministers in this lakeside town outside Brussels, was more cautious, saying, as did Solana, that he hoped the meeting would go forward.

"We can't allow ourselves to stop," said Michel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

"Dialogue has to start up again. People have to talk, even with a reduced agenda."

In a statement, the Belgian EU presidency deplored escalating violence in the Middle East "when intensive efforts have been deployed with a view to an imminent resumption of a direct dialogue between the parties". 



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