by Staff Reporter
THE attacks on tourist establishments in Egypt and the Israeli offensive in Gaza marked the start of the two-day Formentor Forum, which spotlighted the crisis in the Near East yesterday.

The situation in Gaza meant that the former interior miister of the Palestine Authority, Mohamed Dahlan, had to cancel his appearance. His place was taken by economic adviser Mohamed Rachid.

The Forum was opened at 3pm by Alfonso Cortina, chairman of Repsol YPF who are hosting the summit, and Balearic leader Jaume Matas.
In his welcoming speech, Matas said that there were two black clouds threatening stability in the Mediterranean: terrorism and the Palestinian conflict.

He called on the political and social leaders attending the Forum to use dialogue to find new ways of co-operating in the region.
Matas said that the Balearics was an historical example of a meeting place between cultures and religions “through commerce and migratory movements.
The first speaker was Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, who said that Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is a “priority which has the support of most of the population of Israel.” The withdrawal, he said, must be complete and “accompanied by firm international guarantees.” It will call for hard diplomatic work on the part of the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States, to ensure that it is done within the calendar which has been laid down, adding that an initiative which should contribute to peace should not be allowed to become “one more excuse for war.” Sampaio went on to say that understanding between the West and Islam had been damaged not only by the conflict in the Near East, but also by the situation in Iraq.

Commenting on international terrorism, he said that the solution is not only military but needs a political alliance based on mutual respect and ecumenical dialogue, to speed up the extradition process and promote economic and social development.

The Israeli transport minister Meir Sheetrit, said in the Forum that “Israel has never intentionally attacked civilians” maintaining that the Palestinians attack all Hebrews, including children and babies.

He also sounded the alert about the danger for international security in Iran's nuclear aspirations, a threat “which Europe should take seriously.” As to the situation in Gaza, he said that the “Palestinians are losing an opportunity which exists” to achieve autonomy, as Sharon is determined to withdraw from Gaza.

He added that Sharon has taken a great political risk with the decision, and expressed reserves about his plan.
As to the threat from Iran, he said that if the world is not a safer place after the invasionof Iraq it is because of the Teheran regime.
He said that Europe knew absolutely nothing about the situation of Israel regarding its neighbours, and compared Islamic integrists with “wild animal which should be killed.”

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