G8 urges smooth Gaza pullout,quartet presses Israel
LONDON (Reuters) - Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight called for an orderly Israeli pullout from Gaza on Thursday after world powers urged the Jewish state to let Palestinians move more freely around occupied territories.
A meeting of ministers from the G8 group of industrialised nations, hosted by G8 president Britain, said a smooth evacuation from Gaza, planned for August, was vital to renewing peace moves stalled by nearly 5 years of bloodshed.
"We urge Israel and the Palestinian Authority to coordinate ... with each other on the planning for the withdrawals," said the ministers in a statement. "We are all clear that Gaza disengagement must be a success," it said.
Ahead of the meeting, the "quartet" of the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations urged Israel "to take immediate steps ... to facilitate rehabilitation and reconstruction by easing the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza and the West Bank and between them".
The peace mediators also said Israel and Palestinians should meet more frequently to cement plans for August's Israeli pullout from Gaza, which they hope will spur peace moves.
"Quartet" special envoy James Wolfensohn, a former World Bank president, said he was encouraged by Israeli and Palestinian cooperation on practical problems, such as linking Gaza to the rest of the world.
"We have moved from trying to set an agenda to trying to deal with real issues," Wolfensohn told reporters after addressing G8 foreign ministers.
"While there are bumps in the road, I am infinitely more optimistic today than I was two weeks ago," he said.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders disagree over how to balance the Jewish state's efforts to stop militants entering Israel with Palestinian needs to move more quickly through long lines at security checkpoints.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Palestinians, neighbouring states and the international community shared a responsibility "to make sure terrorism is not to be tolerated".
Wolfensohn, charged with reviving the Palestinian economy after the withdrawal, presented two ideas to foreign ministers.
He wants a Palestinian aid package during and directly after the pullout, for jobs, houses and infrastructure. He also sought backing for a three-year programme to create state institutions.
"I got evidence of support that my approach was correct and I hope to come up with numbers in the next few weeks," he said.
The foreign ministers' meeting has different priorities from the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, next month where Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to get leaders to agree to tackle African poverty and climate change.
The foreign ministers said they were committed to helping Afghanistan become safe and develop its fledging democracy.
"We (the G8) have recommitted ourselves and the international community to a long-term relationship with the people of Afghanistan and its government ... there is still a great deal to do," said British foreign minister Jack Straw.
The G8 highlighted the fight against narcotics as a "direct challenge to Afghanistan's stability and security" but pledged to support the government.
The foreign ministers also underlined their support for efforts by France, Britain and Germany aimed at stopping Iran developing nuclear weapons while adding concerns about its ballistic missile programme and attitude towards terrorism.
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