Key international players stressed the urgent need for Mideast peace and backed the stalled road map peace plan at a meeting Wednesday.
Leaders of the so-called Quartet - the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia - stressed the need for "a credible political process" to make progress toward the goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan hosted the meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, a day before the Security Council holds a meeting of foreign ministers at the urging of the Arab League to revive efforts to end the Arab-Israel conflict - not only with the Palestinians but with the Syrians and Lebanese as well.
In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the Quartet "stressed the urgent need to make progress towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East."
The Quartet also "expressed its concern at the grave crisis in Gaza and the continued stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians."
Other key participants included US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
"I think really that it was a very, very good step that we could all find each other," EU External Affairs Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, noting the shift in the Quartet language to be in line with the European Union.
"The Americans have shown understanding, and they have shown openness that the same language has been adopted," she said.
The Quartet welcomed the prospect of a meeting between Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It also welcomed Abbas' efforts to form a government of national unity, though EU diplomats said his attempts to bring Hamas and Fatah together were faltering.
International aid to the Palestinians has dried up since Hamas, which does not recognize Israel and refuses to renounce violence, took power after its January election victory. The Quartet statement expressed hope that a Palestinian national unity government "would reflect Quartet principles which would lead to an early engagement."
In May, the Quartet adopted a temporary mechanism for delivering relief to the area. The World Bank-led program lets donors make aid payments to Palestinians, bypassing the Hamas-led government.
The Quartet endorsed "the continuation and expansion of the Temporary International Mechanism for a three-month period, and agreed to again review the need for such a mechanism at the end of that period."
It encouraged greater donor support to meet Palestinian needs, "with a particular emphasis on security sector reform, reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, and economic development."
UN envoy Alvaro De Soto also urged Israel to transfer million of dollars in tax and customs revenues that it started withholding after Hamas won January parliamentary elections.
"If Israel were to transfer the funds ... it would really make a big difference in trying to alleviate a very difficult situation," he said.
Karen AbuZayd, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said earlier this month that the "stopgap measure" has done little to improve the "appallingly low standards of living" in Gaza.
She added that while the Gazan economy is in ruins and the government is on the brink of meltdown, the siege of the strip and the financial sanctions against Hamas have not moved the government toward negotiations with Israel.
Among the worst challenges Gazans face, AbuZayd said, is the closing of entry points to their country, like the Rafah border crossing to Egypt, which prevents the import and export of goods and has forced 48 small businesses to leave Gaza in the past few months.
The Quartet underlined the urgent need for the parties to implement an agreement on movement and access which requires Rafah and all other passages to remain open.
At a meeting in July, several Arab League members said the Quartet's road map was dead.
The plan called for confidence building steps leading to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel by 2005. It was launched by US President George W. Bush with great fanfare at a summit in Jordan in June 2003. But neither the Palestinians nor Israel met their initial obligations, and the plan never got off the ground.
But the Quartet statement Wednesday "reaffirmed its commitment to the road map as the means to realize the goal of two democratic states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in peace and security."
De Soto also underlined the importance of the negotiations, saying they are "essentially the only game in town."
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa stressed earlier this week that Arab nations want to end all Arab-Israeli conflicts, and he insisted that "it's not our intention to sideline any of the mechanisms that exist," including the Quartet.
The Arab League wants Secretary-General Kofi Annan to prepare a report "on possible mechanisms" to resume direct negotiations, in close consultation with the parties to the conflict, states in the region and the Quartet.
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