Spain's Zapatero to visit Mideast in October
It will be the Spanish Prime Minister’s first visit to Syria, Israel and Palestinian territories.
Madrid – Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will make his first visit to the Middle East in October to support efforts by US President Barack Obama to relaunch the peace process, a source at his office said Thursday.
Zapatero, whose country takes over the rotating presidency on the European Union on 1 January, will begin the visit on 14 October, after talks with Obama in Washington.
He will travel first to Syria, then to Israel and to the Palestinian territories, where he will meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, the source said.
The Socialist prime minister may also visit Lebanon, where more than 1,000 Spanish troops are based as part of the UN peacekeeping force.
He will not stop in Egypt as President Hosni Mubarak has prior engagements, but hopes to visit Cairo later in the year, the source said.
Zapatero, who announced the trip at a news conference at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, will travel with Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, the former EU special envoy to the Middle East.
Zapatero said the relaunching of the Middle East peace process is "great challenge".
But he said a meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahou at the UN on Tuesday was a "first step".
Zapatero has never visited the region since taking power in 2004.
Israel had voiced its disapproval after a Spanish court in January opened an investigation against seven top Israeli military for "crimes against humanity" over a deadly 2002 air raid in Gaza. The court dropped the probe in June but two pro-Palestinian groups filed an appeal against the court’s decision on Thursday.
AFP / Expatica