07/14/2008, 00.00
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Israel and Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, “never so close”

Launching the Union for the Mediterranean Olmert and Abbas reaffirm their aim of a concrete peace deal. Lebanon and Syria agree to appoint ambassadors. Nicolas Sarkozy points to signs for peace and prosperity in the region; but critics highlight outstanding difficulties and disagreements.

Paris (AsiaNews) – Optimism for an Israeli-Palestinian deal that has “never been so close”; an exchange of ambassadors between Lebanon and Syria, all fruits of  the Union for the Mediterranean summit held yesterday in the French capital.   Main issues on the summit agenda included conflicts in the Middle East, pollution and immigration.  The meeting, called by Nicolas Sarkozy with European Union support, was attended by 47 representatives from 27 nations, including the EU, Balkan states, as well as North Africa, Israel and the Arab world.

Lybia was the only country not to participate, its leader, Muhammar Ghedafi, defining the summit as another form of colonialism.

 “The European and the Mediterranean dreams are inseparable," said Sarkozy, adding; "We will succeed together; we will fail together."”.

Speaking to journalists, Israeli premier Olmert declared that there are "obstacles, problems, disagreements but we have never been as close to the possibility of coming to an agreement as we are today….I think that the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli state will be able to take important decisions which will take us to a stage which we have never before reached". For his part, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas sounded a positive note about future peace talks: “We have no alternative but to achieve this peace”. “For the sake of our peoples, the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, the peoples of the Middle East and for the people of the world, because we know that peace in the Middle East is the basis of peace in the world”.

The day before Sarkozy succeeded in bringing together Syrian president Assad and his Lebanese counterpart Sleiman. Both agreed to set up embassies in each other's capitals for the first time.  Since the 1948 war for Independence Syria has refused to recognise Lebanon.

In exchange for Assad’s opening up to Lebanon, the political isolation suffered by Damascus particularly after suspicions of its involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri, will be eased.  The European Union and United States welcomed the decision but Washington said Damascus needed to take "concrete actions to end its destabilising tactics in the region”.

Syria is closely linked to Iran, Hezbollah and armed Palestinian factions.

Sarkozy claimed that this new organism is capable of transforming the Mediterranean region into an area of peace and prosperity.  Critics have dismissed the new union as lacking substance, and diplomats say there are continuing disagreements over key issues such as how to address the Middle East peace process and a possible role for the Arab League. Perhaps this explains why the summit ended without even one group photo.


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