Palestinians Urge Japan to Help in Middle East

Japan (searchand other U.S. allies should urge Washington to either get more involved in the stalled Mideast (search) peace process or allow them to take the lead in settling the conflict, the Palestinian foreign minister said Wednesday.

"There is a need to get America's allies to ... motivate the United States to be back in the process," Nabil Shaath (searchtold The Associated Press.

Shaath said the United States was distracted from the peace process by the upcoming presidential elections and troubles in Iraq, adding that the lack of attention was allowing a serious disintegration of the road map.

"The peace process is stalled. It's not only stalled but it's deteriorating," he said. "So things are getting worse."

In the latest bloodshed, Israeli troops moved into a neighborhood at the eastern edge of Gaza City early Wednesday, killing eight Palestinians and wounding at least 25 others in exchanges of fire, residents said. Israel said the operation was a search for militants responsible for firing rockets at nearby Jewish settlements.

Shaath also said that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposed dismantlement of settlements in the Gaza Strip needs to go farther and be followed by an implementation of a stalled peace plan to have any real effect.

Sharon has indicated that he would remove up to 17 of the 20 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip among other unilateral steps if the U.S.-backed road map remains bogged down.

Shaath said more concessions are needed -- including a halt to a security barrier Israel is building in the West Bank -- to breathe life into the peace process.

"If he pulls out of all of Gaza, if he stops building the wall inside of Palestinian territory, of course it will be positive," he said.

"One needs to see if this was really a unilateral action that would save Israeli and Palestinian lives," Shaath added. "We need to see it followed by continuation of the peace process, not further unilateral actions."

Israel argues that the barrier is needed to thwart homicide bombers trying to infiltrate from Palestinian territory. The planned route of the barrier juts deep into Palestinian lands and critics say it is an Israeli land-grab.

Shaath, who arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday from Spain, said he would press Japanese officials in coming days to get more involved in resolving the problems between Israel and the Palestinians. He is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other officials before leaving on Saturday.