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. Italian PM in Israel for talks on Iran
JERUSALEM, July 8 (AFP) Jul 08, 2007
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi began a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Sunday for talks focusing on Iran's nuclear ambitions and efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.

Prodi, on his first visit since taking office in May last year, was due to hold informal talks over dinner with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before a round of meetings on Monday with Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

He was also expected to visit the southern Israeli town of Sderot, hard-hit by rockets fired in recent years by militants in the Gaza Strip, where the Islamist Hamas movement seized control on June 15.

"The two will touch on the diplomatic efforts on the Palestinian track, but will mainly discuss efforts to tighten economic pressure on Iran," Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin told AFP.

The UN Security Council has adopted two sets of sanctions against Iran over its failure to heed ultimatums to suspend its uranium enrichment programme, the process that produces fuel for nuclear power stations.

Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East, accuses the Islamic republic of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, although Tehran insists that its programme is for civil purposes only.

Coupled with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, Israel has come to consider Iran's nuclear programme as an "existential threat."

Prodi and Olmert will also discuss the UN peacekeeping mission in Israel's northern neighbour, where Italy has the largest number of troops in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Eisin said.

The force, which was set up in 1978 to monitor the volatile Israel-Lebanon border, was beefed up after the 34-day war a year ago between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas that devastated Lebanon.

On Tuesday, Prodi will travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, whose newly appointed moderate government which rules in the West Bank has won the strong support of Israel and the international community.

Prodi will also visit the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, an Italian diplomat has said.

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