Back Arafat, Egypt urges

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The Independent Online
EGYPT yesterday urged Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation to forge ahead with elections in the West Bank and Gaza, writes Richard Dowden.

'The elections must take place immediately,' Amr Mohamed Moussa, Egypt's Foreign Minister, said in an interview in London yesterday. Anxious to condemn terrorism on all sides, he added: 'Actions by Hamas or settlers or Hizbollah must not be allowed to derail the peace process.'

He urged the international community to support Yasser Arafat. 'Arafat is in a difficult position and its incumbent on us to help him.'

'We need to help him show the Palestinian public in Gaza and the West Bank that things have changed in favour of the Palestinian family. He needs support.'

Under the agreement signed in Cairo on 4 May, elections should have been held in Gaza and the West Bank in July, but they were postponed until this month. There is still no sign of a date.

'The election is not an option, it is a step, a link between the first stage and the second stage of the process. Without them they can't move towards autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza,' Mr Moussa said.

He added Mr Arafat was convinced he would beat his rivals in an election, but if Hamas did well, that would only strengthen the peace process by involving everybody. 'It is better to keep them in rather than keep them out,' Mr Moussa said.