Adams leaves on Mid-East trip

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is en route to the Middle East to meet with peace workers and political figures in Palestine and Israel.

The west Belfast MP is flying to the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv and will hold a press conference in the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem tonight.

Mr Adams, who has been invited to the region by the Palestinian President Abbas, will also address the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Forum at the Peres Centre for Peace in Tel-Aviv.

The Sinn Fein leader is then expected to travel to the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah where he will meet with the Palestinian president and members of his cabinet, including Hamas officials.

Sinn Fein has confirmed that a requested meeting with the Israeli government was declined on the basis that Mr Adams was meeting Hamas. The policy of the Israeli government is to refuse to speak to Hamas or to anyone who does speak to Hamas.

The West Belfast MP will tell Arab and Israeli leaders that only an inclusive, negotiated settlement can hold the potential of bringing peace to the region.

Speaking at his Falls Road headquarters in Belfast he argued that “the broad principles” of the peace process in Ireland also applied in the Middle East.

Explaining the reason for the trip, Mr Adams said: “First of all we want to learn. Sensible people everywhere are concerned about what is happening there. Sinn Fein has been involved in a limited way, but insofar as we can, in peace processes in the Basque country, in Sri Lanka. We are keen to share our experiences with others.”

He admitted he did not have “any magic formula or panacea for any conflict situation” but he stressed “the broad principles which apply here after years of conflict - recognition of democratic mandates, dialogue as a means [ to go] forward, governments playing a full part - we think some of those certainly could be applied in the Middle East. We’ll see how we get on.”

He said there had been a longstanding invitation extended to him by the late president Yasser Arafat to go to the Middle East.

“For various reasons, sometimes emergency situations here, sometimes emergencies in that process, for various reasons we weren’t able to take it up,” he said.

“When president Arafat died I felt quite sore about it and I said ‘We are now going to go’. It has taken from then until now to go.” He said Sinn Fein had worked with the Israeli embassy in putting the trip together. Diplomats “have wished us well in terms of our endeavours.”

But he added: “I understand members of the Israeli government will not meet with us, they have a position which I think is the wrong position.”

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