European governments welcomed over the weekend the announcement of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the talks, which are set to begin in Washington on September 2, are a “courageous step” towards a lasting peace.

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“I warmly welcome the decision by Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas to move to direct talks, and the Quartet statement earlier today,” Hague said on Friday.

“A two-state solution is the only hope for lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians.

Today’s announcement is a courageous step towards that goal.”

Hague called on both sides not to jeopardize the opportunity.

“Urgent progress must now be made. We call on all parties to refrain from any activity that could undermine negotiations,” he said.

“The UK stands ready to do all we can to support the parties and buttress these important talks, working with the United States and our other EU and UN international partners.”

Hague is set to visit Israel next month, his first official visit to the region as foreign secretary.

He will also visit the Gaza Strip, at the suggestion of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

If the visit goes ahead, Hague would visit the Hamas-controlled territory as part of a group of European foreign ministers from France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Lieberman’s proposal also includes visits to Sderot and Ashdod.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner issued a statement saying “France hails the launch of the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I also salute the American effort which allowed this enterprise to get under way, crucial as it is to peace in the region,” Kouchner was quoted by AFP as saying.

“To be useful and to succeed these talks should address all elements linked to final status, on the basis of the parameters agreed by the international community. I call on both parties to act responsibly so these negotiations can make rapid progress with a view to creating a viable, independent and democratic Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel.” Kouchner noted that French President Nicholas Sarkozy had recently held meeting with both Netanyahu and Abbas.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement quoted by AFP that the task now that talks have been announced was to “prove the capacity for necessary compromise,” after “possible solutions on unresolved questions” have already been suggested in previous rounds of negotiations.

Merkel praised US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who has been shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah for several months. She encouraged the ex-senator to “continue tirelessly” on the same path.

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