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Arafat seeks China role in Mideast

Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat: in China seeking support  


BEIJING, China -- Palestinian President Yasser Arafat is expected to urge China to play a more active role in the Middle East peace process when he meets Chinese leaders this week.

Arafat will encourage China to pressure Israel to allow international monitoring of Israeli-Palestinian violence, the Palestinian ambassador in Beijing told Reuters news agency Wednesday.

The Palestinian leader is due to arrive in Beijing on Thursday evening, and will meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his visit.

But China is unlikely to propose any new initiatives in order to maintain a delicate diplomatic balance between its old allies in the Arab world and Israel, a key arms supplier, analysts said.

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Beijing has tried to remain even-handed in its policy towards the Middle East, condemning all violence between Israelis and Palestinians and calling on both sides to exercise restraint.

But China, one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, has recently condemned Israel's use of force and backed a Palestinian proposal to send international observers to the area -- a plan Israel opposes.

The Palestinians are now keen for China to use its growing international clout to help negotiate an end to nearly 11 months of bloodshed in the Middle East.

"China can play a more effective role in this issue," Palestinian ambassador Moustapha Saphariny told Reuters.

"Due to the relations between China and Israel, I think China can play an effective role in talking with Israel in order to implement the agreements of the Security Council and agreements signed by both sides," he said.

"China stands very fairly, they are not taking the Palestinian or the Israeli side."

There was no official comment from the Israeli embassy.

Continuing violence

But some Beijing-based diplomats said Israel is hoping China would urge Arafat to end hostilities against Israelis before returning to the negotiating table.

"What is important to Israel is that he should hear from the Chinese a plea to him to stop the violence," said one diplomat.

"This is what Israel would like to hear coming out of China."

The two sides have been locked in violence since a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip began after peace talks stalled.

Almost 700 people, including more than 520 Palestinians and about 150 Israelis, have been killed since last September.

Israeli soldiers shot dead four Palestinians on Wednesday, hours after Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Arafat agreed to hold ceasefire talks, Palestinian officials said.

Change 'unlikely'

China has raised its profile in the Middle East in recent years, repeatedly urging the two sides to follow the principle of "land for peace" and calling on the international community to help them resolve their differences.

In April last year, Jiang became the first Chinese head of state to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Arafat even asked Jiang on that visit to appoint a permanent envoy to the Middle East peace process.

Chinese state media have reported no such appointment yet.

Analysts say China is keen to be seen playing a role in the Middle East to assert itself as a major world power but is more concerned about maintaining ties with Israel and the Arab world.

Relations with Israel have burgeoned with the Jewish state's sale of tens of millions of dollars of military hardware to Beijing.

But Chinese support for the Palestinians dates back to 1963 when Arafat met Chairman Mao Zedong and received weapons.

"China doesn't have a direct interest in the Middle East peace process," said a Western diplomat.

"China will not initiate anything new or out of the blue but will join the general trend which she identifies as being shaped."

Arafat will encourage China to pressure Israel to allow international monitoring of Israeli-Palestinian violence, the Palestinian ambassador in Beijing told Reuters news agency Wednesday.

The Palestinian leader was due to arrive in Beijing on Thursday evening, and would meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his visit.

But China was unlikely to propose any new initiatives in order to maintain a delicate diplomatic balance between its old allies in the Arab world and Israel, a key arms supplier, analysts said.

Beijing has tried to remain even-handed in its policy towards the Middle East, condemning all violence between Israelis and Palestinians and calling on both sides to exercise restraint.

But China, one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, has recently condemned Israel's use of force and backed a Palestinian proposal to send international observers to the area -- a plan Israel opposes.

The Palestinians are now keen for China to use its growing international clout to help negotiate an end to nearly 11 months of bloodshed in the Middle East.

"China can play a more effective role in this issue," Palestinian ambassador Moustapha Saphariny told Reuters.

"Due to the relations between China and Israel, I think China can play an effective role in talking with Israel in order to implement the agreements of the Security Council and agreements signed by both sides," he said.

"China stands very fairly, they are not taking the Palestinian or the Israeli side."

There was no official comment from the Israeli embassy.

Continuing violence

But some Beijing-based diplomats said Israel was hoping China would urge Arafat to end hostilities against Israelis before returning to the negotiating table.

"What is important to Israel is that he should hear from the Chinese a plea to him to stop the violence," said one diplomat.

"This is what Israel would like to hear coming out of China."

The two sides have been locked in violence since a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip began after peace talks stalled.

Almost 700 people, including more than 520 Palestinians and about 150 Israelis, have been killed since last September.

Israeli soldiers shot dead four Palestinians on Wednesday, hours after Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Arafat agreed to hold ceasefire talks, Palestinian officials said.

Change 'unlikely'

China has raised its profile in the Middle East in recent years, repeatedly urging the two sides to follow the principle of "land for peace" and calling on the international community to help them resolve their differences.

In April last year, Jiang became the first Chinese head of state to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Arafat even asked Jiang on that visit to appoint a permanent envoy to the Middle East peace process.

Chinese state media have reported no such appointment yet.

Analysts say China is keen to be seen playing a role in the Middle East to assert itself as a major world power but is more concerned about maintaining ties with Israel and the Arab world.

Relations with Israel have burgeoned with the Jewish state's sale of tens of millions of dollars of military hardware to Beijing.

But Chinese support for the Palestinians dates back to 1963 when Arafat met Chairman Mao Zedong and received weapons.

"China doesn't have a direct interest in the Middle East peace process," said a Western diplomat.

"China will not initiate anything new or out of the blue but will join the general trend which she indentifies as being shaped."

Reuters contributed to this report.







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