Quartet to Reaffirm Faith in Road Map

The Mideast Quartet is expected to reaffirm its commitment to the road map when its members meet in New York today, United Nations diplomats said yesterday.

The Quartet, comprising the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN, will discuss the deteriorating relations between Israel and the Palestinians and the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian population in Gaza.

Diplomats in New York said yesterday that the Quartet ministers are likely to decide to operate unofficial channels to funnel humanitarian aid to the Gazan population, bypassing the Palestinian government.

The meeting at the UN headquarters will be attended at by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, who holds current EU presidency, and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

A senior UN source yesterday firmly dismissed speculations that following the recent developments in Gaza the Quartet no longer sees the road map as the preferred solution to the Middle East conflict.

On the other hand, reliable sources in New York said the Quartet ministers would wish to update the concept regarding the road map's implementation in view of the political changes in the region following Hamas' rise to power and the new government formed in Israel.

The sources cited the statement of Alvaro de Soto, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, who told the Security Council on April 24 that one of the challenges was to update the road map's implementation to the new reality in the region.

However, the main issue on the Quartet's agenda today is formulating a practical and immediate solution to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

The concern for the plight of the Palestinian population was reflected yesterday in a long report from Gaza published on the New York Times front page.

Entitled "Funds Cut, Gaza Faces a Plague of Health Woes," the newspaper reported that the aid cutoffs and closing of the borders with Israel were causing the collapse of Gaza's health system.

The newspaper quoted Gaza residents who said they could not obtain urgently needed treatment.

Hospital directors were quoted as reporting a "shortage of everything from disposable needles and adhesive tape to vital drugs."