Merkel, Blair Planning Middle East Summit in Berlin for June

German daily: Talks to include EU, Quartet, several Arab states, will focus on developing PA institutions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Quartet envoy Tony Blair will jointly organize a Middle East peace conference to be held at the beginning of June in Berlin, the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Friday.

A spokesman for Merkel, Ulrich Wilhelm, confirmed the report, adding that the chancellor had spoken with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about the conference by telephone on Friday.

All European Union members, several Arab states, the Middle East quartet of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, and Palestinian and Israeli officials will be invited to the talks, the paper said, without identifying the source of its information.

The aim of the meeting, which will be at the level of foreign ministers, will be to push forward the peace process and prepare Palestinians to take over responsibility for their own state, the paper added, in a preview of its Saturday edition.

U.S.-backed peace talks launched in November have been bogged down by ongoing violence as well as continued Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said officials meeting in Berlin will discuss building up the Palestinian police force and the development of the legal system and justice apparatus.

Nations including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates would play an important role at the talks and Israeli and Palestinian officials had already pledged to attend.

Merkel becomes the first German chancellor to address the Knesset next week.

Her three-day trip, starting on Sunday, marks the 60th anniversary of the Israel's creation in 1948.

She will be accompanied by several cabinet ministers and will hold talks on Monday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.