Peace Talks Won't Hurry Middle East Resolution

WASHINGTON -- The United States and Israel appeared to be in no hurry to push ahead with a new Middle East peace plan as Palestinian President Yasser Arafat accepted a British invitation to send a delegation to London for talks on peace next month.

Arafat accepted British Prime Minister Tony Blair's offer and called on international mediators to finalize the new peace blueprint, which envisages an end to violence in the region and a Palestinian state by 2005.

But Israel has asked Washington to go slowly on the plan, known as the "road map," until Israeli elections on Jan. 28, and U.S. officials have discouraged expectations that a meeting of mediators later this week will release a definitive document.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell hosts talks with the quartet of Middle East mediators -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- to devise a timetable for steps to peace in the troubled region. Blair's apparent attempt to move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict higher on the world agenda met a positive response from Arafat.

Blair acknowledged that in the short-term, any progress toward peace would be limited by the Israeli election next month, which opinion polls show Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud party as winning.

Sharon has said while he accepts the road map in principle, its implementation would depend on cessation of Palestinian "terror, violence and incitement," a reference to suicide bombings.

Israeli officials accuse Arafat of complicity in attacks on Israelis, an allegation the Palestinian leader denies.

At the United Nations, Arab nations circulated a draft resolution asking the Security Council to condemn Israel for the recent killing of UN staff in the Palestinian territories.

The document, introduced by Syria, condemns Israeli actions under the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in wartime.

"We presented in the name of the Arab group a draft resolution condemning the Israel authorities for the killing of staff of UNRWA," the UN Relief and Works Agency, which helps Palestinian refugees, said Syria's UN ambassador, Mikhail Wehbe. "That means they are not allowing the humanitarian aid to go smoothly to the Palestinian people."

The killing of UNRWA staff member Iain Hook and the destruction of a World Food Program storehouse in Gaza reflected "a troubling indifference to the sanctity of UN facilities," Special UN coordinator in the Middle East Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council in a public briefing.

Two other UNRWA staff were fatally shot in Gaza last week, bringing the year's total to five UN personnel killed.