Brown: U.K. a True Friend of Israel, Will Work Toward Terror-free Future

British PM, on two-day visit to Israel, says amazed at Israel's economic strength in face of regional hostility.

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Visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Sunday said that the U.K. would remain a "true friend" of Israel and work with it toward creating a future "free of terror."

Standing beside the British leader a joint press conference, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he hoped Israel and the Palestinian Authority would stand by their goal of reaching a peace settlement by the end of the year, despite significant disagreements between the two sides.

Olmert also said Israel and the PA were closer than ever to a peace settlement, a declaration he made last week at a press conference following talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"I hope we can stand by the deadline we have give ourselves and overcome by the end of the year the significant differences of opinion," Olmert said.

Brown met earlier Sunday with President Shimon Peres, and told him that his country supports Israel's right to exist in peace and security, but called on Israel's government to halt construction in the West Bank and to ease travel restrictions imposed on Palestinians.

Brown, in Israel for a two-day visit, also announced that he planned to implement the "economic road map" in the Middle East, with a special emphasis on Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in efforts to develop and stabilize the region.

Brown reiterated his call to freeze settlement constructions in talks later Sunday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

He also offered Abbas additional financial support and police training to the Palestinian government.

The British leader said economic prosperity for Palestinians was key to peace, and urged Israel to ease travel restrictions in the West Bank that have hindered commerce. He promised British support in developing housing, industrial parks and small businesses.

Britain, he said, would provide an additional $60 million in financial support to the Palestinian Authority, half of which would go directly into its budget.

"We have pledged 500 million dollars for economic development in Palestine over three years to 2011," Brown said.

Britain would also provide support to help boost security for Palestinians and host an investment conference in London later this year, Brown said.

Brown to Peres: Israel's achievements astound me

At the start of their meeting at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, Brown told Peres that he admired his the president's vision of economic peace and vowed to advance that vision and to involve leading British business people and companies in the process.

The British premier added that at the end of his visit he planned to sign agreements with Israel in the realms of commerce, academia and culture.

Brown mentioned to Peres that though this was his fourth visit to Israel, he is still astounded by the country's economic strength. He lauded Israel's achievements in economy and technology, especially in the face of regional hostility.

The British prime minister explained that many British companies were seeking to become involved in developing joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial zones, developing small and medium size companies and devising housing solutions for Palestinians within the Palestinian Authority. He added that the new European leadership - Germany's Angela Merkel, France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and himself - is interested in bolstering the collaboration with the United States in affecting change in the global agenda, including that of the Middle East.

Peres responded to Brown's remarks, saying that Israel welcomes initiative to promote British investments in the region. Don't send diplomatic armies, the president requested, send business people. The president explained that business ventures could contribute more to the region's peace process and to a change in the general atmosphere between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

The president also raised the issue of the nuclear threat coming from Iran, saying that Israel was willing to pay a steep price for peace, but would not compromise the safety of its citizens.

Earlier Sunday, Brown visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and laid a wreath next to the eternal flame.

During his visit, Brown was expected to announce 60 million euros in new aid for the Palestinian Authority and he will become the first British prime minister to address the Israeli parliament, officials said.

Brown's visit was centered around talks on the peace process with Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas. He was also in the region to take part in a British-Israeli business conference.

Brown's spokesman said the prime minister wanted to "discuss the way forward in the peace process" with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and to focus on economic reconstruction and development in the region.

Britain and the United States sponsored an investment conference in the West Bank town of Bethlehem in May, at which private investors pledged to pump 1.4 billion Euros into Palestinian businesses to bolster the economy.

Brown has made strengthening the Palestinian economy a key plank of his policy towards the region, arguing that the political and security situation there can only improve if there is a strong and sustainable Palestinian economy.

Olmert and Abbas launched U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations last year with the aim of reaching an agreement before President George W. Bush leaves office next January, but progress has been hindered by vehement mutual recriminations.



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