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Israel, Palestinians await return of U.S. envoy Ross

JERUSALEM, May 1 (JTA) — U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross is scheduled to visit the region next week, in another bid to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. All parties agreed in principle to the visit during Ross’ last shuttle mission to the region two weeks ago, Israel Radio reported. The sole accomplishment of that mission was a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian security heads to discuss the resumption of security cooperation between the two sides. But there have been few signs of cooperation since that meeting. The Palestinians suspended most diplomatic and security contacts with Israel in March, after Israel began building a new Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem. A subsequent wave of terrorist attacks and violent demonstrations in the territories provoked an Israeli demand that the Palestinian Authority crack down on terror as a condition for resuming negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Thursday that he remained committed to the peace process. Despite the difficulties and crises, Netanyahu said, his government was on a path of peace. Meanwhile, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Eitan Ben Tsur, moved to dispel reports of an internal ministry document saying that the peace process is dead. Ben Tsur acknowledged that the head of a research desk in the ministry had referred to such assessments in the Arab world, “but the Foreign Ministry opinion is that the peace process is alive and well.” A different view was heard Thursday in the Sinai, where Syrian President Hafez Assad held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheik. Speaking after the meeting, Assad accused Israel of “slamming the door on peace.” He also responded to reports in Israel that Damascus was developing a lethal nerve gas, saying that “whoever has a nuclear arsenal should not be critical of others.” Although Assad had pressed for a pan-Arab summit on the political situation, he deferred to Mubarak’s preference that a smaller forum be convened involving Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians.