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MOVE  ASIDE  WASHINGTON, HERE  COMES THE  EU

 
Mid-East mission meets regional heads
The Mitchell commission and the Israeli prime minister (third
                                    left)
The commission began its work in Israel on Monday
An international fact-finding mission to the Middle East says it is ruling nothing out, in its efforts to probe the causes of the violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

The head of the mission, the former US Senator George Mitchell, said the team would do more than study documents, contrary to some reports.

The mission, agreed in October, began work in the region on Monday amid divisions between Israel and the Palestinians about what it is supposed to achieve.

Meanwhile, there has been further violence in the West Bank, with Israeli forces reported to have shot dead a Palestinian man near Bethlehem.

Israeli elections

The shooting took place as the resignation of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, came into effect, after his announcement on Saturday that he was stepping down to seek a mandate in fresh elections.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat: has declared his support for the mission
Mr Barak is now head of a transitional government ahead of a vote in February for a new prime minister.

Mr Mitchell, speaking about his mission in Cairo after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said it would visit the region several times.

But he refused to say who it would talk to or which areas it would visit.

The five-man mission has since gone on to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah.

After talks in Israel on Monday, Mr Mitchell, who has helped to broker a peace settlement in Northern Ireland, said: "We have no illusion about the difficult nature of the task.

"Our hope is that our work will be helpful to the parties in reducing the level of violence that has claimed so many lives and to help ensure an early return to the negotiating table," he added.

Mandate disputed

The Israeli and Palestinian authorities differ on what the peace mission's mandate should be.

Israel insists the team's job is not to apportion blame but to suggest ways of preventing future violence.

However, the Palestinians, who accuse Israel of using excessive force during the uprising, want the mission to determine who is to blame and recommend action.

The commission also includes Javier Solana of Spain, a senior European Union official, Warren Rudman, a US Senator, the former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel and the Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjorn Jagland.

The team expects to make recommendations to the US president by the end of March, which would be passed onto the United Nations.

E