Foreign Ministry promoting regional cooperation at Barcelona summit

From saving water to helping kids make films, the Foreign Ministry Sunday unveiled an 11-point program of regional cooperation it plans to peddle at the two-day summit of world leaders in Barcelona. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, opens Monday in the city where top leaders from Europe and the Mediterranean first came together to focus on regional cooperation. It is one of the few forums where Israeli leaders can mix with Arab leaders. "In our view, the Barcelona process framework is the ideal framework for breaking old stereotypes, misguided myths and erroneous beliefs between nations. It can serve to prepare the ground and the hearts for peace and cooperation," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued on Sunday. The ministry called on other countries to use the momentum created by Israel's disengagement from Gaza this summer to "create a change in the stalled political process between Israel and the Palestinians." It also outlined 11 projects of regional cooperation on issues such as gender equality, emergency and trauma systems, health systems management and desertification in the Middle East. It called for the creation of a counter-terrorism research center, seminars on tolerance and cooperation n the field of technological innovation. Israel is looking to create a new program called the technological incubator which will provide a supportive environment for inventors and entrepreneurs to development technological innovations for business ventures. Among the cultural programs Israel is calling for are a four-day event to share music from different countries and a series of regional literary meetings and workshops. Also on the drawing board are cinema projects, including a workshop for documentary filmmakers and a kids film festival. In spite of the 10th year anniversary, only two of the 10 leaders from outside the EU showed up. Leaders from Egypt, Algeria, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco all stayed away from the meeting, with reasons ranging from a medical problem for Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to political unrest at home for Egypt President Hosni Mubarak. Apart from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the only non-EU leader expected to turn up was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The absence of such leaders as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave center stage to Abbas and he held bilateral meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and new German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He lauded EU involvement in last week's opening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt and said that will soon be followed by more developments. In place of Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Finance Minister Ehud Olmert is leading the Israeli delegation. AP contributed to this report.