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    Moscow warns against "pause" in Middle East peace process

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    MOSCOW, August 18 (RIA Novosti) - The peace process in the Middle East should not end with Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, A Russian Foreign Ministry official told a press conference Thursday.

    "Gaza must not become the final settlement step," said Alexander Kalugin, the Foreign Ministry's envoy for the Middle East peace process. "Further steps will have to be taken. Therefore, the Middle East Quartet, which includes Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU, and other international mediators, should think over the steps to be taken afterward," Kalugin said.

    "We have to prevent a long interval in settlement efforts. We are realistically minded people and do not expect that everything will go smoothly," Kalugin said.

    Kalugin said internal political problems facing Palestine and Israel should also be taken into account.

    "(Israeli Prime Minister Ariel( Sharon's government and (Palestinian leader( Mahmoud Abbas are both facing problems, which makes a rather unfavorable background for further settlement efforts," he said.

    Kalugin urged assistance to Palestine in raising living standards in the areas from which Israel is withdrawing. He added the socioeconomic aspect would have an extremely important role in the peace process.

    Many people in Palestine still believe they will only create a state of their own through armed conflict, he said.

    "Our main objective is to help the parties conduct the evacuation and prevent violence. The quartet will cope with that in general," he said.

    Kalugin said Wednesday that "quartet" officials would meet in Jerusalem on Saturday to discuss the latest developments in the region. The mediators will also hold a ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September and study the proposals to be advanced at the Jerusalem meeting.

    "Initial delimitation results will be reviewed there and further moves outlined," Kalugin said.

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