Mideast Quartet to mediate peace process

The Middle East Quartet made up of the EU, Russia, the UN and U.S. has pledged to re-start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and help the Palestinian Autonomy to develop its institutions and economy. Also, following the meeting Israel has rel

The talks are the first since Hamas Islamic militants seized control of Gaza from Fatah last month. It is also a debut for Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair, as the Quartet's special envoy.

Top diplomats from the European Union, U.S., Russia, and the United Nations met former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who's making his debut as Middle East envoy.

In the first session of the Quartet since the June clashes in Gaza, international mediators decided a broad international conference is needed to re-establish calm in the area.

“The Quartet welcomed President Bush's July 16 statement renewing U.S. commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and supported President Bush's call for an international meeting in the fall,” Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, said.

The newly-appointed Quartet's Middle East envoy, Tony Blair, said he was excited with his new mission.

The deplorable humanitarian situation in Gaza was also in the focus of the Quartet's meeting in Lisbon.

The EU, being the biggest financial donor to the Palestinian national administration, has reaffirmed its willingness to help.

“I want to say very clearly that we are going to continue helping the Palestinian people that are in Gaza,” Javier Solana, the EU Foreign Policy chief, stated.

However, the Hamas administration is not expected to get any of this aid.

The U.S. will only finance the UN's humanitarian actions and the Mahmoud Abbas controlled government. And these measures alone won't bring any long-term solution, says the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“All of that – the work on movement and access, the work on improving the economic situation, the work on improving political institutions – all of that is very important. But ultimately it has to be bolstered by a commitment to a political future for a Palestinian state,” Ms Rice believes.

Meanwhile, Israel has released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in an effort to bolster President Mahmood Abbas' standing. The 250 or so people, mainly from Abbas's Fatah faction, were freed, as part of a U.S.-backed deal. International support for President Abbas's leadership has increased in recent weeks, following hardline Hamas' takeover of the Gaza strip. The prisoners boarded buses outside Kitsiyot prison in Southern Israel. They will be re-united with their families in the West Bank city of Ramallah.