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Home >> World
UPDATED: 10:48, November 25, 2006
Middle East tops talks at Italo-French summit
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Italian Premier Romano Prodi and French President Jacques Chirac called for European action in the Gaza Strip during an Italo-French summit on Friday.

The two leaders said at a press conference on the sidelines of the one-day summit that the situation in the Palestinian- administered Gaza Strip was "dramatic."

They said they were in favor of a "joint European initiative" to help stabilize the region.

The Middle East conflict topped the agenda of the talks between Prodi and Chirac who unexpectedly announced last week that they were working on a Middle East plan together with Spanish leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Although full details about the Italo-French-Spanish plan have not been made public, it is known to call for a total ceasefire and advance the possibility of sending forces to the region to ensure a truce is maintained.

The initiative was at the center of a Spanish-French summit on Nov. 16 and subsequent talks between Prodi and Egyptian government leaders, and will be put to European leaders at an EU summit next month.

Prodi and Chirac said they hoped it would lead to "concrete action" and that it would help negotiations on the formation of a unity government between Hamas, the militant movement heading the elected Palestinian government, and the rival Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinians hope sanctions imposed on the Hamas government over its refusal to recognize Israel will be lifted if a unity government is formed.

Prodi and Chirac stressed that a unity government was an important step for relaunching peace talks with Israel.

They also expressed support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whose government has been rocked by the Tuesday assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel.

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is pro-Syrian, is demanding a bigger say in government and is planning protests next week against Siniora's administration.

Prodi, who came to power seven months ago, said he still favored the idea of posting peace monitors along Lebanon's border with Syria.

"This idea hasn't been dropped, even though there has not been a full response from Syria," he said.

"For Italy, this remains one of the proposals which could boost Lebanon's security," he said.

Prodi's center-left government, which has taken a strong lead in European Middle East policy, has already sent troops to Lebanon, providing the biggest peacekeeping contingent for the United Nations force deployed in the south of the country following the July-August conflict with Israel.

Chirac said France wanted to "ensure Lebanon's independence and stability" but was not fully convinced by the idea of sending peace monitors to the Syrian border.

Prodi and Chirac also discussed the entry talks between the European Union and Turkey, which are threatened by Turkey's refusal to open its ports to EU member Cyprus.

Chirac said that France viewed Italy as a closer ally under Prodi's leadership.

French-Italian relations cooled somewhat under the previous, American-oriented government of Silvio Berlusconi.

Prodi has put Italy back on a more pro-European foreign policy line, noted by Chirac who said "things have changed."

He hailed the summit as representing the chance to "give a fresh boost to our cooperation."

Source: Xinhua

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