US envoy Mitchell to return to ME this month

Secretary of State Clinton announces trip, praises Egypt for role in efforts to consolidate Gaza truce.

George Mitchell 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
George Mitchell 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, fresh from his first trip to the region this past week, will be headed back at the end of the month. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who might also make a visit sometime in the near future, announced his return trip at an event welcoming him back Tuesday. Clinton described Mitchell's efforts as consolidating the cease-fire, and praised Egypt for its role in working on the issue, with an eye toward an eventual settlement. "We are looking to work with all of the parties to try to help them make progress toward a negotiated agreement that would end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, create an independent and viable Palestinian state in both the West Bank and Gaza, and provide Israel with the peace and security that it has sought," Clinton said, also stressing the need to address current humanitarian concerns in Gaza. When asked whether the US would need to engage Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, Clinton reiterated longstanding US policy that the Islamic group must stop its violent attacks, recognize Israel and honor previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements before America would have contact with the organization. "We are just at the beginning of this deep and consistent engagement that we are part of, that Senator Mitchell is leading for our administration, but our conditions with respect to Hamas have not and will not change," she said. Mitchell spent 10 days visiting Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan and Europe as part of his first tour after being appointed to the post. The trip was billed as a listening tour, partly because Israeli elections scheduled for February 10 complicated any efforts at policy-making during the visit. Though his second foray will take place well after the elections, there could be a protracted process for determining a new coalition, which could also hang over Mitchell's efforts.