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The United States leader has started an eight-day Middle
The United States leader has started an eight-day Middle East tour designed to build on goals set at the U.S.-sponsored Annapolis conference in November.

The Mideast conference in Annapolis had produced a declared commitment by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resuming peace talks after a seven-year hiatus. But the momentum was stalled by Palestinian demands that Israel drop plans to build 307 new homes in an area near Jerusalem.

During his tour, George W. Bush will visit six countries - Israel, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Sakr Abu-Fahr, a Lebanon-based Palestinian political scientist and a Middle East expert, said Arabs did not expect any positive results from Bush's trip.

"Bush intends to convince the Arabs that Israel is their partner on the way to peace, and to give a new inertia to the process that the November meeting in Annapolis was supposed to initiate," he said.

The expert said the Annapolis meeting had only resulted in reinforced Israeli presence on Palestinian territories.

"At best, Bush's trip will help persuade Israelis to withdraw some of the settlements ... and the Arabs will have to demonstrate their commitment to peace and recognize Israel in return," Abu-Fahr said, adding that Bush's negotiations would therefore produce no results.

He also said Bush's visit was aimed at isolating Syria, the Hezbollah and Hamas movements, and to win Arab support for U.S. policy in relation to Iran.

The expert said Bush might persuade Syria to secure tactical concessions ahead of the Arab summit in Damascus scheduled for March.

Meanwhile, Palestinian movements based in Syria plan to organize a national Middle East conference in Damascus on January 23-25, said Talal Naji, a deputy secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command.

The conference will be held under the motto of commitment to national rights of the Palestinian and Arab people and national unity as a way to freedom.


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