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Switzerland offers help in search for Middle East peace

Swiss president Moritz Leuenberger meets with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat


The Swiss government has repeated its willingness to help Israel and the Palestinians broker a lasting peace agreement. The offer was made at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos.

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, told a news conference in Davos on Sunday that he and the president, Moritz Leuenberger, had offered Swiss assistance during a brief meeting with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

Despite reports of progress in peace negotiations, Israel on Sunday announced that there would be no further contacts with Palestinian negotiators until after the Israeli elections on February 6.

The Israeli announcement followed a hardline speech by Arafat, accusing the Israelis of waging "a savage and barbaric war" against the Palestinians. But Arafat also reaffirmed his commitment to peace.

"We don't want a breakdown in the peace process," he said after talks in Davos on Sunday night with the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan. "We will continue with the peace process despite the difficulties we are facing."

Arafat also said he would be prepared to meet the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, for talks before the elections.

Arafat's main meeting in Davos was with the former Israeli prime minister, Shimon Peres. They have already held several rounds of peace talks in the past few weeks.

The two men took part in a debate entitled "From Peacemaking to Peacebuilding", looking at ways to advance the peace negotiations.



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The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting