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British move to push West Asia peace

By Atul Aneja

MANAMA, NOV. 25. The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has laid a wreath at Yasser Arafat's grave and held talks with top Palestinian leaders on ways to facilitate the January 9 presidential elections and revive an international initiative to end conflict with Israel.

Mr. Straw paid his respects to Arafat at his black-marble tomb and wrote in the condolence book during his visit to Ramallah today. The gesture is seen as symbolically significant. Unlike the U.S., the European Union had not shunned its contacts with the late Palestinian leader.

Huge prize

Recognising that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was fuelling unrest throughout West Asia, Mr. Straw said that its resolution was even more important than the developments in Iraq. "Its effect is so powerful, not just in the Middle East (West Asia) but around the whole Islamic world, that solving it satisfactorily would be a huge prize," Mr. Straw earlier said in Israel, prior to his visit to Ramallah. "It is the engine of so much trouble around the world," he observed.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was scheduled to have met Mr. Straw on Wednesday but cancelled the meeting, citing a "sore throat."

The British Foreign Secretary also discussed streamlining of the Palestinian security apparatus and related reforms. After a meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei, Mr. Straw said that, "We recognise as I have learned from the Prime Minister and his colleagues that security is absolutely fundamental within Palestine — the West Bank and Gaza, and fundamental to the Israelis."

Earlier, speaking to The Hindu, the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Nabeel Shaath, said that the Palestinian were looking forward to an active Egyptian role in bringing about security reforms. He however pointed out that the Palestinian side was not inclined to use its security forces to enforce a `crackdown' against the militant groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

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