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Seeds of peace evident in violent Middle East

Not many people have lived long enough to recall when the Middle East was not a brutal and violent region. Recent events, however, hint at a trend that could transform the region and, to a large extent, the world.

In the midst of the daily bloodletting, three developments provide hope that the Middle East is becoming fertile enough to grow a long-dormant crop of peace.

The most recent event arises out of death. The West received an odd Valentine's card on Feb. 14 with the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, a moderate who was gearing up to campaign for another term. In isolation, his death was a negative. He was one of the few leaders in Lebanon with goals beyond the killing of Israeli civilians. He opposed the leash that connected Lebanon's government to an increasingly powerful Syria. His followers believe the governments of Syria and Lebanon conspired to have him killed.

So how does one more suicide bomb, one more assassination, serve as a harbinger of peace? The death does not, but the reaction by thousands of Lebanese does. The streets are filled not with people burning American flags, but with people taking a courageous stand against the extremism that controls Lebanon and Syria. They have had their fill of violence. They are tired of zealots who mask their love of violent subjugation with the image of Mohammed.

Another step toward peace is evident from the Iraqi elections. Voters had a broad range of options, including militant Sunnis, militant Shiites and Communists. They chose, however, a Shiite party that supports a low-key, moderate prime minister. He is one of the few candidates who speaks of the need to stop insurgents. He is one of the few who recognize that U.S. assistance is the only way for the country to overcome the violence that plagues it. He is one of the few willing to reach out to Sunnis, Christians and Kurds.

And then there is the Palestinian miracle. Almost before he had time to sit at his new desk, Mahmoud Abbas signed cease-fires with a normally belligerent Ariel Sharon of Israel. And in the clearest sign that Palestinians think six decades of war is enough, Hamas bowed to public sentiment and gave hesitant approval to the truce.

Even as violence continues, a provocative opportunity for peace is dancing before a war-weary population. The world's next generation could be spared the horror of Middle Eastern violence. For the first time in decades, peace is within reach.

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