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Chirac, Prodi call for European push on Middle East peace

Italian Premier Romano Prodi and French President Jacques Chirac pressed for a greater European role in Middle East peacemaking at a summit Friday and called for the formation of a Palestinian national unity government.

The two leaders, meeting in the Tuscan town of Lucca, said such a move would help end the recent bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and open the door for peace efforts, such as the initiative launched last week by Spain, France and Italy - the three largest contributors to a UN force in Lebanon.

"We will work on this so that concrete solutions for the dramatic situation in the Middle East start from Gaza," Prodi told AP.

Chirac and Prodi reaffirmed their support for the peace initiative announced last week, and Chirac indicated it would be expanded to include Britain and Germany. More details were to be discussed next month in Brussels.

The plan has five components - an immediate cease-fire, formation of a Palestinian national unity government that could gain international recognition, a prisoner exchange, talks between Israel's prime minister and the Palestinian president, and an international mission in Gaza to monitor a cease-fire.

Prodi and Chirac both voiced their horror at the shocking assassination Tuesday of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel.

Prodi said the two countries shared the same strategy on Syria, even if some of the tactics were different. While Chirac has largely cut off dialogue with Syria, Prodi urged keeping lines of communication open.

Prodi said that a proposal to put EU observers along the border with Syria remained on the table despite Syria's objections. "This proposal remains among the initiatives that, according to Italy, could help Lebanon's security," Prodi said. "But it must find general agreement."

Ahead of the meeting, Chirac told Friday's Corriere della Sera that France and Italy "were in the front line to promote a return to peace, respect for sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Lebanon."

"Once more, the enemies of Lebanon are seeking to silence - by elimination - all those who believe in a democratic and sovereign Lebanon," Chirac said. "France has exerted all efforts to hinder these schemes. The upcoming formation of the international tribunal charged with trying the culprits in the political assassinations guarantees that these crimes will not go unpunished."

On Iraq, Chirac said Paris and Washington share the same objective: to save the country from chaos. "To achieve this, we have to work with countries in the region towards respecting Iraq's territorial integrity and restoring its fully sovereignty," he said.

Beirut,11 28 2006
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