EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to visit Middle East for talks

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Wednesday he will visit the Middle East later this week to underline the EU's political engagement in the region. Solana's Nov. 11-15 trip will start in Lebanon, where he will meet Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. In Egypt, Solana will meet President Hosni Mubarak; in Israel he will hold talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and in the West Bank, he will meet Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei.

Earlier this week, the EU foreign ministers agreed to begin a three-year mission to train Palestinian police forces and another to monitor the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the AP reports.

Solana said the two missions would represent the most important security presence in the Middle East ever undertaken by the EU as part of the Mideast peace process.

Both the Palestinians and Israelis had requested the EU presence at Rafah, aiming to keep the crossing open to cut the travel time between Gaza and Egypt.

Israel closed the crossing for security reasons before withdrawing settlers and soldiers from Gaza in September.

The Palestinians want the EU border mission to be strictly advisory, while Israel says EU customs officers should have the final say over border checks. A.M.