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U.S. Presents Peace Plan to Israeli, Palestinian Leaders

The plan, drafted by the so-called “Quartet” — the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — calls for the creation of a Palestinian state as early as 2005 and sets out a series of goals meant to achieve a final resolution to the more than 50-year conflict.

American officials presented the proposal to Israeli leaders and newly installed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday. Neither side had an immediate comment.

President Bush said that despite the violence, the plan would give both sides “an opportunity … to move forward.”

“The road map represents a starting point toward achieving the vision of two states, a secure State of Israel and a viable, peaceful, democratic Palestine,” the president said in a statement. “It is a framework for progress towards lasting peace and security in the Middle East.”

Mr. Bush also said he would dispatch Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region to facilitate talks, but that progress depended on Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“Implementing the road map will depend upon the good faith efforts and contributions of both sides,” the president said. “The pace of progress will depend strictly on the performance of the parties.”

Under the so-called “road map” both Palestinians and Israelis are required to take concrete steps to move the peace process forward. Palestinians must implement an immediate end to suicide attacks, continue democratic reforms to its institutions and reiterate Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.

Israelis must pledge support for a Palestinian state, end all work on settlements in contested territory and must work to normalize Palestinian life by ending occupation of towns and easing blockades.

One major Palestinian militant group, Hamas, rejected the new proposal before it was even formally presented. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the group’s spiritual leader who has opposed every peace proposal in the past, denounced the new accord from his home in Gaza City.

“The road map aims to assure security for Israel at the expense of the security of our people. It is a plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause. It is rejected by us,” Yassin told Reuters.

Elsewhere the proposal brought calls for action.

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak welcomed the plan and called on its immediate implementation.

“By the formation of a Palestinian government and its endorsement by the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Palestinian … side has fulfilled its commitments at this stage,” Mubarak said in a televised speech. “We expect work on settling the issue to start immediately through the announcement of the road map and the start of its implementation … under the supervision of a suitable monitoring mechanism,” he said.

The diplomatic efforts continued despite a deadly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv early Wednesday local time. The blast, which occurred at a seaside nightclub, killed three Israelis and wounded 55.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a militant wing of Abbas’ and Arafat’s Fatah Movement, claimed responsibility for the blast. A spokesman for the group said the bombing was a message to the new prime minister that “nobody can disarm the resistance movements without a political solution.” Hamas also said it had aided in the attack.

An Israeli government official said the attack indicated that Arafat, not the newly appointed Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen — was still in charge.

“As long as Abu Mazen is in his position but Arafat continues to go behind his back and encourages the terror, we will not see a change,” Israeli Cabinet Minister Dan Naveh told Israel Radio.

Abbas was sworn in to his new position only hours after the attack. In a speech to parliament Tuesday, he said terrorist strikes only undermine the Palestinians’ cause.

“We reject terrorism, whatever the source, whatever its forms,” Abbas told lawmakers. “We believe such methods do not help a just cause like ours. On the contrary, they destroy it.”

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