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Martinez visits Mideast as elections observer

Sen. Mel Martinez participated along with eight other senators as an official election observer for the first Palestinian elections in the post-Yasser Arafat era.

"I believe that I witnessed a very important moment in history," Martinez said Monday during his four-day tour. "We watched another democracy come into being, besides Israel, in the Middle East."

Martinez, a Republican, promised his Jewish supporters in Florida that his first overseas trip would be to Israel. Fulfilling that pledge and getting a quick tutorial as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was the motivation for the trip, he said.

A self-described novice in Mideast affairs, Martinez met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the army chief of staff, the head of the Mossad secret service, members of the Israeli Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Palestinian Authority members and aides to Mahmoud Abbas.