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Mideast Quartet presses Israel over settlements

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  • Mideast Quartet says Israeli and Palestinian peace deal possible by year's end
  • Group urges Israel to halt West Bank settlement activity
  • Palestinian Authority urged to fulfill its commitment to fight terrorism
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The Mideast Quartet -- four international entities seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- expressed deep concern Friday over Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Palestinian militants' rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says an agreement is possible by the end of the year.

But the Quartet also offered a silver lining, saying it believes an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians for a Palestinian state can be forged by the end of the year.

"It is hard work, it is labor-intensive and it is time consuming, but I believe they do have a chance to get an agreement by the end of the year, but that is what we are going to work for every day," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

The Quartet, started six years ago in Madrid, consists of the United Nations, the United States, Russia, and the European Union. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is the the Quartet envoy.

U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon summarized the Quartet's latest positions about the state of Israeli and Palestinian development at a news conference.

The group urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001. It also expressed concern about Palestinian civilian deaths and injuries, including the recent death of a mother and her four children in Gaza.

It called on the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its commitment to fight terrorism and hasten steps to rebuild and to refocus its security apparatus. The Quartet also condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza aimed at Sderot and Ashkelon in the West Bank and deplored the Jerusalem seminary terror attack.

It expressed "deep concern" over the humanitarian conditions in Gaza and called for continued emergency and humanitarian assistance and the provision of essential services to Gaza without obstruction.

"The Quartet expressed their strong support for ongoing Israel-Palestinian negotiations, and encouraged the parties to make every effort to realize their shared goal of agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state in 2008," Ban said. E-mail to a friend

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