JERUSALEM, (AP) – President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East will come to Israel Wednesday for talks on keeping alive a fragile Gaza cease-fire and reviving Mideast negotiations, an Israeli foreign ministry official said Saturday.
It is the new administration’s first direct move into Mideast peace efforts.
George J. Mitchell will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior Israeli officials, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because Washington has not officially announced the trip.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced Mitchell in his new role Thursday. His appointment is seen as signaling a renewed push under the Obama administration for a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Mitchell will also visit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at their headquarters in the West Bank, the official said.
The official said Mitchell will discuss restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, and ways to impose an effective arms blockade against the Hamas militants who rule Gaza and have been firing rockets into Israel for years.
The arms embargo and the opening of the blockaded territory’s borders are key to sustaining separate cease-fires by Israel and Hamas.
In Washington, the White House and State Department declined to comment, but diplomats familiar with Mitchell’s travel plans said he would visit Israel and the West Bank with possible stops in Egypt and Jordan on a tour that could last eight to 10 days.
His exact itinerary is not yet settled, the diplomats said, but he will be working to secure an Israel-Hamas cease-fire, improve the humanitarian situation for Gazans and gauge prospects for continuing the peace process.
The diplomats also spoke on condition of anonymity because the trip had not been formally announced.
Mitchell, a retired Senate majority leader, was a key player in Northern Ireland peace talks in the 1990s and later led an international commission to investigate violence in the Middle East. His report, issued in 2001, called for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and a Palestinian crackdown on terrorism.