Mideast quartet backs U.S. effort to revive talks

israeli_palestinian1.gifThe quartet of Middle East peace brokers backed a U.S. push to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks on Friday but voiced deep concern about violence among Palestinians that threatens to undermine the effort.  The group, which includes the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, disagreed over the U.S. policy of isolating the Hamas-led Palestinian government and Syria, which Russia said was “counterproductive”.

The United States is making a fresh effort to promote peace at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government is weak and the power struggle between Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah has erupted into street clashes between their forces.

Fighting between rival Palestinian factions escalated across Gaza on Friday, killing at least 17 people as Hamas overran compounds used by Abbas’s forces and two major universities were set ablaze.

“The quartet expressed its deep concern at the violence among Palestinians and called for respect for law and order,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, reading a statement on behalf of the quartet.

At least 23 Palestinians have been killed and more than 200 wounded in the last 24 hours of internal fighting, making some analysts deeply skeptical of broader U.S.-led peace efforts.

“It needs to stop,” Rice said of the violence but argued it should not delay work toward a broader peace deal that could someday lead to a Palestinian state. Rice plans to meet Olmert and Abbas soon to sketch out how they might work on peace.

The group reaffirmed a year-old international aid embargo against the Hamas-led government unless it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and respects past peace deals.

But it said a temporary mechanism set up by the Europeans last year to get aid to the Palestinians while bypassing Hamas should be “further developed.” The United States does not contribute to this fund.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced his country’s strong skepticism over the boycott and said it was necessary to work with Syria as well as Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.

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