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Annan: Mideast Road Map 'Not Dead'

The United Nations (searchwill press for increased international action to ensure the success of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (searchat a meeting next week of the sponsors of a U.S.-backed peace plan, Secretary-General Kofi Annan (searchsaid Wednesday.

Annan said the "road map" plan to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement "is in distress but not dead" and the sponsors will try in the meeting Tuesday to ensure that the Gaza withdrawal is a positive step in the peace process.

Annan told a news conference that the Quartet — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia — will discuss how the United Nations and the international community can help with the Gaza pullout.

The secretary-general said he approved last week's proposal by his top Mideast envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, for international security arrangements to ensure Israel's complete pullout and hand over of authority in Gaza to the Palestinians.

Roed-Larsen suggested that Israel could follow the same procedure it did when it withdrew from southern Lebanon: It asked Annan to help facilitate the pullout and certify afterwards that the occupation had ended.

"The U.N. worked with the Israelis and the Lebanese Government to ensure that the withdrawal was managed and orderly," Annan said.

Annan said he believes the Quartet still has a role to play in trying to promote the road map.

"We do have a belief that the road map is in distress but not dead and that we will try to encourage the parties to use it," he said.

The road map — which has been stymied for months amid sustained violence by both parties — calls for both sides to take reciprocal steps with the goal of two independent states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace in 2005.

Palestinian leaders have scrambled to garner international support after President Bush suggested Israel would not have to give back all the West Bank or accept Palestinian refugees as part of a final peace deal. Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and Gaza, along with the right of refugees and their descendants to return to Israel, if they so choose.