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Czech Republic: President Havel Begins Mideast Tour

Prague, 19 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Czech President Vaclav Havel left Prague today to begin an eight-day visit to the Mideast.

The visit will take the Czech President to Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. He will also spend a day in the territory of the Palestinian Autonomous Authority to meet Palestinian officials.

The trip is intended to solidify Czech relations with mideastern countries and give Havel an opportunity to express opinions to regional leaders about the mideast peace process. Prague has repeatedly condemned violence in the Middle East in the past, saying that all parties must engage in intensive dialogue and the search for peace.

The Middle East peace process has been at a standstill for months over Palestinian objections to construction of a new Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem. Tensions have reached a crisis point in recent weeks with a spate of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Israeli demands that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat crackdown on militants. Renewed violence has also broken out between Israel and anti-Israeli fighters of the Hizbollah militia group seeking to evict Israel from its self-declared buffer zone in southern Lebanon.

The Czech president's tour will first take him to Lebanon where he is due this afternoon to meet with Lebanese President Elias Hrawi. He then goes to Jordan from Saturday to Monday. It is his first visit to both Arab countries. Prague's diplomatic links with the two states date back to Czechoslovakia's exchange of ambassadors with Lebanon in 1947, and Jordan in 1964. The Czech Republic established diplomatic relations with both countries in 1993.

Havel proceeds on Monday to Israel for his second visit to that country. He first visited Israel in 1990, when he became the first president of a former communist country to visit the Jewish state. Post-Communist Czechoslovakia resumed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1990, while Czech-Israel diplomatic ties were established in 1993.

Prague has a long relationship with the Palestinians, dating to 1981 when a permanent PLO mission was established in Czechoslovakia. Czech-Palestinian diplomatic relations were established in 1993.

Havel is accompanied on his mideast trip by Czech Transport Minister Martin Riman, Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova and Deputy Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda. On Monday, Industry and Trade Minister Karel Kuehnl is due to join them in Israel.

The Czech President is also accompanied by his wife Dagmar, whose program includes meetings with Queen Noor of Jordan and with Suha Arafat, wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.