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Mideast Quartet to meet Monday as Gaza violence flares

Stalled Quartet mediation meetings are expected to take place in New York today amid a third day of ongoing Israeli air strikes and rocket fire from Gaza

AFP , Monday 12 Mar 2012
Quartet
Members of the Middle East Quartet, (L-R) former Prime Minister Tony Blair, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, at the UN headquarters in New York, September 2010, (Photo: Reuters).
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Top officials from the United States, Russia, United Nations and European Union will meet Monday to discuss deadlocked efforts to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the UN said.

It will be the first top level meeting of the diplomatic Quartet in six months and comes amid a new flare-up in violence, which has left at least 21 Palestinians dead in Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip since Friday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will attend the meeting at UN headquarters in New York.

EU foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton will take part by videoconference, diplomats said. Clinton, Lavrov and Ban will then join a UN Security Council debate on the Arab Spring.

Israel's air force pounded Gaza overnight with a series of raids which killed three people, raising the death toll to 21 in a wave of tit-for-tat violence that began with Israel's killing of a senior militant on Friday.

Israel said Palestinian militants had fired a total of 180 rockets from the impoverished territory since the violence erupted, leaving four Israelis wounded.

On Sunday, Israel called on the UN Security Council to take action over the rocket assault. It criticised the low-key international response to attacks from Gaza and warned in a letter signed by Israeli deputy UN ambassador Haim Waxman that it would take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said the Security Council must "act with urgency to address this crisis" accusing Israel of staging an "escalation of deadly violence and terror".

He said women and children were among "dozens" of wounded and the dead also included a farmer killed while working in his field.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since September 2010 and the decades-old conflict has become overshadowed by the uprising in neighbouring Syria. Quartet efforts to revive the talks have come to nothing.

Angered by Israel's settlement construction in the occupied territories, the Palestinian leadership has stepped up efforts to bring the international spotlight back on their demands for an independent state.

At the UN General Assembly last September, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas made a high profile application for full Palestinian membership of the global body. But the United States has threatened to veto any recommendation for membership made by the UN Security Council.

The United States and Israel say only direct talks can produce an accord that will set up a new state.

The same day as Abbas made his bid at the UN, the Quartet launched a new initiative to press the two sides back into talks, setting a timetable for Palestinians and Israelis to make proposals on the borders and security for a new Palestinian state.

Preliminary contacts in Jordan in January failed to get agreement on new direct talks however.  The Palestinians last year won membership of UNESCO and say they could seek seats with other international agencies. But other measures to increase international recognition and draw attention to the conflict have failed.

Using its powers as a permanent member of the Security Council, the United States last year vetoed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements which the UN and all major powers consider illegal.
The Palestinians last month invited the Security Council to visit the Palestinian territories. The United States has led resistance to that idea. Many observers say there is no prospect for a breakthrough until after the US presidential election in November.

The Quartet held its last top-level meeting at the UN General Assembly in September.

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