A US-initiated 'roadmap' for reaching a settlement over the Middle East crisis has met with a cool reception from Israel, which claims that the plan does not pay sufficient attention to the country's security requirements. The scheme is being promoted by the US special envoy to the Middle East, William Burns, who set out on a two-week tour of the region on 20 October.
The plan - backed by the EU, UN and Russia - is understood to detail three stages leading from the cessation of violence to the creation of a Palestinian state. First steps involve the dismantling of Jewish settlements erected under the present Israeli government and an end to Palestinian violence and Israeli actions 'undermining trust'. The plan then calls for an Israeli withdrawal from areas occupied since September 2000, a freeze on all settlement activity and the holding of Palestinian elections, with a final peace settlement due in place by 2005.
Palestinian officials, who met Burns in the West Bank town of Jericho on 24 October, welcomed the roadmap as a step in the right direction. However, Burns is expected to have his work cut out convincing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to accept the plan. The head of Sharon's bureau, Dov Weisglas, who met Burns on 23 October, has already warned that Israel has reservations about the plan. Israeli opposition is likely to have been hardened by the 21 October suicide bombing of a bus in northeast Israel in which 14 people were killed. The Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the attack.
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