European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said overnight Tuesday that there is "no alternative to a negotiated deal," ahead of her trip to Israel on Wednesday.

"Urgent progress is now needed towards a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace and the European Union will continue to support all efforts towards that goal," Ashton said.

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"There is no alternative to a negotiated solution. We want to see the State of Israel and a sovereign and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security," she continued.

Ashton is expected to arrive on Wednesday for meetings in Jerusalem with Israeli leaders, followed by meetings in Ramallah on Thursday with the Palestinian Authority leadership.

Ashton's expected visit comes after diplomatic activity began anew on Tuesday with a meeting in Jerusalem between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Quartet envoy Tony Blair. The meeting following a more than weeklong hiatus in international involvement in the diplomatic process because of the Christmas and New Year holidays.

On Thursday, Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Sharm e-Sheikh for a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak dealing with ways to break the current diplomatic stalemate. Netanyahu will be accompanied on that visit by Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who is considered to have good relations with the Egyptians. Ben- Eliezer, a Labor party minister, threatened earlier this week that his party would quit the government in two months in the absence of any meaningful diplomatic process.

White House senior advisor Dennis Ross is expected to arrive for further talks in the coming days. Ross was last here some two weeks ago.

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