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G8 Urges Smooth Gaza Pullout, Quartet Urges Cooperation

Foreign ministers from the world's leading industrialized nations called for a smooth Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip on Thursday, while the international Quartet on Middle East peace urged Israel and Palestine to cooperate on the withdrawal plan.

At a meeting hosted by Britain, which holds the presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) this year, the ministers said an orderly and peaceful evacuation from Gaza, planned for August, is highly important for renewing the peace process stalled by a five-year-long bloodshed.

"We urge Israel and the Palestinian Authority to coordinate... with each other on the planning for the withdrawals," they said in a statement. "We are all clear that Gaza disengagement must be a success."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in London after a Middle Eastern tour, insisted that Israel's pullout from Gaza mustbe peaceful. She also called on the Palestinian authorities to rein in militants, saying neighboring countries must fight terrorism.

Earlier in the day, Rice met with top officials from Russia, the European Union and the United Nations at the US ambassador's residence to discuss the road map to peace in the Middle East.

The so-called Quartet, which drafted the road map aimed at the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, urged Israel and Palestine to cooperate on Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip, saying the withdrawal should revitalize the road map peace process.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the Quartet encouraged the two sides to "move closer to the goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."

"The Quartet notes that less than two months remain until the announced start of disengagement, and emphasizes the urgent need for Israel and Palestine to work directly and cooperatively with each other," the statement said.

The statement condemned recent bloodshed on both sides, particularly mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli towns, and urged parties concerned "to avoid and prevent any escalation in violence so that withdrawal can proceed peacefully."

"The Quartet encourages continued Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation toward that end," said the statement, reminding both sides of their obligations to move the peace process forward.

Israel had to take "immediate steps" to relieve hardships faced by Palestinians in occupied territories, while the Palestinians needed to "confront violence and terror" perpetrated by militants.

"Rapid reform of the security services and strengthening of the rule of law are essential elements that can improve security for Palestinians and Israelis alike," said the statement.

In Gaza, Palestinian Deputy Interior Minister General Jamal Abu Zayed said the Israeli side has presented detailed maps concerning the planned Gaza pullout.

Zayed made the remarks after a meeting in Tel Aviv with Israeli officials on the implementation of the Gaza pullout.

"The meeting was fruitful and positive, and the issue of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the redeployment in northern West Bank were discussed," he said.

The two sides presented and discussed their proposals for the gradual implementation of the withdrawal and agreed to hold another meeting between field officers to continue coordination and create a proper atmosphere for the withdrawal, he said.

"We agreed to meet again to help finalize the withdrawal," he said.

Also on Thursday, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) condemned an Israeli threat to resume targeted killing of Palestinian activists.

Tawfeeq Abu Khousa, spokesman of the Palestinian Interior Ministry, told reporters that such a threat is rejected and will weaken the PNA's efforts to convince factions to observe the status of calmness.

Israel has threatened to launch air raids on the Gaza Strip if activists attempt to impede the implementation of its withdrawal from the territory.

Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel reserves the right to thrust into the Gaza Strip if Palestinian militants mount attacks after the pullout.

Israel plans to start withdrawing all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four of 120 in northern West Bank in mid-August after almost four decades of occupation.

Coordination over the pullout has been underway since earlier this month to ensure a smooth and peaceful evacuation.

(Xinhua News Agency June 24, 2005)

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