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UK Politics

Egypt uprising 'should jolt Middle East foes'

The ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should "jolt" Israelis and Palestinians to get round the negotiating table in a renewed bid to find a Middle East peace settlement, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

Mr Hague acknowledged that events in Egypt and Tunisia, where President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has also been forced out in a popular uprising, could complicate the search for a peace deal.

However, he warned that time was running out for an agreement based on a two-state solution as Israeli settlements continued to encroach into occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel in particular had seen Mr Mubarak as a stabilising force in the region, acting as the guarantor for the past 30 years of the historic Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

The Armed Forces Supreme Council, which has taken power in Cairo following Mr Mubarak's dramatic resignation, has vowed to continue to honour Egypt's international obligations - including the country's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Appearing on state television yesterday, a senior military officer said that the military was "looking forward to a peaceful transition, for a free democratic system, to permit an elected civil authority to be in charge of the country, to build a democratic free nation".

President Barack Obama welcomed the military's commitments to eventually hand power to an elected civilian government and keep the Isreal treaty intact.

He also pledged US assistance and financial support as the Arab country moves toward free and fair elections.

Thousands of supporters packed into London's Trafalgar Square yesterday to celebrate Mr Mubarak's departure and demonstrate their solidarity with the protesters in Egypt who forced him out.

Mr Hague insisted that the Israelis should not fear the rise of democracy in the Arab world and he called on them to join the Palestinians in a return to the direct talks which broke off last September.

"What we should be afraid of here is not democracy but uncertainty and instability that can make national leaders more cautious and say that we are only going to deal with one thing at a time," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"Perhaps one of the good things that might come from events in Egypt and Tunisia is that policymakers in Israel and among Palestinians will be jolted to see that it is vital now to take this forward because in a few years time a two-state solution will be much, much more difficult to achieve.

"There is some life in it but it is on life support and it will not live for many more years. The Israelis are making settlements in occupied territory steadily changing the nature of the area and there is a growing weariness about the whole approach to the two-state solution. But it is still very much the best solution.

"It is vital both to Israel's long-term security and to any hope of a viable Palestinian state for both of them to make the necessary compromises.

"Sadly in recent months, neither have been ready to do so and I hope that these events will jolt them into that rather than make them more cautious about doing so."

The Amnesty rally in Trafalgar Square - one of 46 held in 16 countries - was organised before Mr Mubarak resigned and had been planned to increase the international pressure change.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general, told the crowd: "We want to send a resounding message from Trafalgar Square to Tahrir Square that we are in solidarity with the people of Egypt."