Leaders from the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations said at the G-8 summit yesterday they support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan and will travel shortly to the Middle East to boost efforts to end regional violence.

They also called on PLO Leader Yasser Arafat immediately to relinquish control of his security forces and hold democratic elections.

The Group of Eight industrialized nations said at their annual meeting held this year in the isolated Georgia resort of Sea Island that the international community should now urge implementation of the so-called road map for Middle East peace, and called on the world to support Sharon’s plan to withdraw troops and all settlements from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

“The G-8 hopes that this disengagement initiative will stimulate progress toward peace in the region, the realization of Palestinian national aspirations, and the achievement of our common objective of two states – Israel and a viable, democratic, sovereign, and contiguous Palestine – living side-by-side in peace and security,” read a joint statement by the group.

“The G8 countries will join with others in the international community, led by the Quartet, to restore momentum on the road map, to enhance humanitarian and economic conditions among the Palestinian people and to build democratic, transparent and accountable Palestinian institutions,” the statement said.

“The G8 calls upon the Quartet to meet in the region before the end of this month, engage with Israeli and Palestinian representatives and set out its plans.”

The statement also urged the Palestinian Authority to hold municipal elections by the end of the summer, assuring that it would help make sure they were fair and transparent and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not used as an excuse to avoid reform.

In a major reversal for some of the countries in attendance – particularly France and Russia, both of whom previously supported Arafat in spite of Israel’s attempts to isolate him – the statement called on the PLO leader to reform his security agencies “so that they enforce the rule of law, mount effective operations against all forms of terrorism, and report to an empowered interior minister and prime minister.”

This was an obvious warning to Arafat, who was told last week by Egypt to hand control of all security forces to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, and give Qurei complete authority to conduct negotiations with Israel over Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan.

The summit members praised Egypt for its efforts “to resolve critical security issues relating to Gaza.”

Arafat, who recently responded to the Egyptian demands with a letter the Egyptians deemed inadequate, has until June 15 to relent – or else, according to Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman, Arafat’s future would be “left in the hands of Ariel Sharon.”

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