Mediterranean Union Launches
French President Nikolas Sarkozy has opened the first summit meeting of the Union for the Mediterranean. Similar to the EU but with a looser grouping, the body will focus on energy, security, trade, and immigration between neighboring nations in southern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
The Union for the Mediterranean will tackle issues such as regional unrest, immigration to pollution.
At the summit's opening in Paris, Mr Sarkozy said its aim was to ensure the region's people could love each other instead of making war.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders earlier expressed optimism about peace talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel and the Palestinians have never been as close to a peace deal as they are now.
He was speaking after talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who said both sides were serious and wanted to achieve peace.
Mr Sarkozy says his presidency of the EU is committed to progress on Middle East peace
He said the grouping "will build peace in the Mediterranean together, like yesterday we built peace in Europe".
The meeting marks Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's return to the international stage, seated at the same table as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
France hopes the new union for the Mediterranean will bolster regional cooperation and provide new impetus to Middle East peace efforts.
But Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, speaking outside the summit, said that a lasting peace deal in the Middle East can be effective only with American support.
"There has been a history of people shaking hands at summits; we have seen it today with Olmert, Abbas and Sarkozy. We have seen it for 15 years and it seems the more people shake hands, the worse it gets in the occupied territories.
"I think it is clear that the French have been trying for a while to be involved in efforts towards a Middle East peace deal, but they know their limitations and they know that this summit is only a prelude for negotiations to go ahead whenever Washington is ready to sponsor such negotiations.