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U.S. wants Israel-Arab summit after Gaza pullout
Updated: 2005-07-22 08:30

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proposed a summit to bring together Israel and Arab countries after the Jewish state withdraws from the occupied Gaza Strip, Israeli media said on Friday.

But neither U.S. nor Israeli officials could confirm the reports. The Haaretz newspaper's Web site said Rice made the suggestion at a meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. The report was also carried by Voice of Israel radio.

A State Department official in Washington who asked not to be named said: "We always encourage governments that do not have relations with Israel to move to get them" but did not know if Rice had raised such an idea.

U.S. wants Israel-Arab summit after Gaza pullout
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice listens listens to questions during a news conference in Jerusalem July 21, 2005. Secretary Rice flew into the Middle East on Thursday to try to smooth Israel's planned withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip and bolster a ceasefire with the Palestinians. [Reuters]
Officials travelling with Rice were not available for comment and a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry said he could not confirm whether the reports were correct.

The reports said the proposed conference would be sponsored by the United States and Russia. The radio said the aim would be "to promote the resumption of relations between Israel and the North African and Persian Gulf countries."

Spurred by new hopes for peace since agreeing a ceasefire with the Palestinians in February, Israel has been working hard to try to get more Arab states to establish ties with it.

But most appear reluctant, especially while Israel still occupies land captured from Arabs in the 1967 Middle East war.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's planned Gaza withdrawal, due to start next month, would be the first time Israel has removed settlements from land that Palestinians want for a state. Much larger West Bank settlements will remain.

Washington sees the removal of settlements as a possible step to reviving negotiations on Palestinian statehood and positive for wider hopes of peace in the Middle East.

Currently just three Arab League members have diplomatic ties with Israel -- Egypt, Jordan and the northwest African country of Mauritania.

Israel has a commercial attache posted in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar. Morocco, Tunisia and Oman have suspended ties with Israel during the past four years of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

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