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Brown makes unannounced visit to Israel

Latest update : 2008-07-19

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Saturday flew in to Tel Aviv on a previously unannounced visit to Israel and the West Bank, for a two-day trip focused on the Middle East peace process and efforts to boost the Palestinian economy.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Saturday flew in to Tel Aviv on a previously unannounced visit to Israel and the West Bank, his first since taking over as premier.
   
On a two-day visit focused on the Middle East peace process and efforts to boost the Palestinian economy, Brown was to meet Israel's President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior ministers, British officials said.
   
Brown earlier on Saturday made a surprise visit to Baghdad where he said London wanted to cut the number of Britain's troops in Iraq but ruled out any "artificial timetable" for their withdrawal.
   
"On Monday, he will become the first British prime minister to address the Israeli parliament," Brown's spokesman Michel Ellam said.
   
Travelling on to the West Bank, he is to meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad.
   
They will discuss "the way forward on the peace process and economic reconstruction and development," the spokesman told AFP.
   
Brown -- who spent 10 years as finance minister under Tony Blair whom he succeeded as premier in June 2007 -- is expected to use his visit to stress the need for increased investment in the Palestinian territories.
   
Last September, he set out an "economic roadmap" for peace in the Middle East, in which he said it was his "strong personal belief" that kick-starting growth in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was crucial to establishing peace.
   
"By giving ordinary Palestinians an economic stake in their future, we support the forces of peace and moderation," he said.
   
The report identified building blocks for an "economic roadmap": reducing public expenditure, a more stable relationship between the Palestinian and Israeli economies, a balance between short-term security and movement and access, diversification of trade links, and an enhanced investment climate.
   
Britain has pledged to provide almost 500 million dollars (315 million euros) to help build the Palestinian economy.
   
Brown is also set to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
   
His predecessor Blair is now the Middle East Quartet's envoy, representing the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States in efforts to advance peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
   
Brown reiterated last month that he saw the main issue preventing greater stability in the wider Middle East as the lack of a deal giving Israel security and the Palestinians a viable state.
   
The US-sponsored talks between the two sides in Annapolis, Maryland in late November 2007, were aimed resolving the conflict before US President George W. Bush leaves office next January.
   
However, no concrete progress has yet been announced, and outside Israel, many fear that Olmert's deepening political troubles in corruption probes could scupper the slow-moving peace talks.
   
Brown and Olmert met as prime ministers in London on October 23 when the 57-year-old Scot backed his counterpart's push for tougher sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.
   
Abbas who held talks with Brown in London last December praised Britain's funding pledge and said the British premier played a "pivotal role in the region" and his personal involvement was a "source of power" for Palestinians.
   
Brown has attended a host of events in Britain marking this year's 60th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel.
 

Date created : 2008-07-19

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