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Israel, Oman committed to peace

SALALAH, Oman, April 1 -- Omani and Israeli leaders Monday declared their commitment to a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East and called for greater economic and other outside support for the self-rule Palestinian authority. A statement issued after talks between Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Sultan Qaboos bin Said said they also emphasized the need for continuation of talks between Israel and Syria and Lebanon. Peres, who arrived Monday for a two-day visit at the head of a high- level delegation of businessmen and industrialists, met the sultan at his summer palace in Salalah, 625 miles (1,000 km) south of Muscat, the Omani capital. Israel and Oman signed an agreement in January to establish diplomatic ties and to increase economic relations. The nations began secret contacts in the 1970s and late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Oman in December, 1994. The statement said the two leaders discussed 'the Palestinian- Israeli track and the urgent need to give economic, regional and international support to the Palestinian National Authority.' It said the sultan 'expressed his anxiety about the Palestinians' current situation (and) Peres expressed his determination to find ways of overcoming the present situation to reinforce the agreements between the Palestinian and Israeli sides.' Israel has closed its borders with the Palestinian self-rule areas in Gaza and the West Bank after a wave of suicide bomb attacks killed more than 60 people and wounded scores more. The closures, although modestly eased over the past weeks, have inflicted considerable economic hardship on the Palestinians.

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Peres, at a press conference with the Omani minister of state for foreign affairs, Yousuf bin Alawi, noted that Sultan Qaboos was the first among Arab leaders to recognize the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Extending an invitation to the sultan to Israel, he also said he hoped for cooperation between Oman and Israel in agriculture, health, high technology and tourism and in joint venture and business projects. In answer to questions, Alawi said the reaction of other Gulf Arab countries to the Peres visit had been positive. He noted that the Israeli delegation was also going on to Qatar on Tuesday and that they had flown over a number of other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council to reach Oman. 'This visit to Oman is to make a direct positive policy towards the Palestinians,' Alawi said. 'We are committed to the peace process and we attach a great deal of importance to its success.' Peres' visit to Qatar on Tuesday will be the first by an Israeli leader and comes five months after the two countries signed a deal for Israel to purchase billions of dollars worth of natural gas from the Gulf state.

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