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Annan:Palestinian state key to ME solution

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has linked the settlement of the Middle East conflict with ending Israeli occupation and creating a Palestinian state.

Speaking at a press conference following talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah Wednesday, Annan said an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and the creation of an independent Palestinian state adjacent to Israel "are the key to a solution in the Middle East region."

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Annan underscored the importance of implementing the relevant international resolutions, including 242 and 338, which call for Israel's withdrawal from Arab territories seized in the 1967 war.

He also urged Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza Strip and called for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whose kidnapping by Hamas and other Palestinian groups more than two months ago sparked an ongoing Israeli offensive on the strip which Israel vacated almost a year ago.

Annan stressed the need to stop firing rockets at Israel, end Israeli incursions in Gaza, release Palestinian ministers and legislators arrested by Israel and deal with the issue of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

He said he encouraged Abbas to keep up negotiations with the prime minister of the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Ismail Haniyeh, for the sake of forming a national unity government.

"The U.N. will do what it can to support the Palestinians in that regard," he said.

Annan pointed out that there are no immediate plans to deploy United Nations forces in the Palestinian territories. He stressed, however, that the international community will deal positively with the Palestinians if they engage in negotiations with Israel according to a joint program.

Annan held talks in Israel and Ramallah Wednesday on the second leg of a Middle East tour which began in Lebanon two days ago.

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