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Annan urges all parties to Middle East crisis to help end tragedy

Annan urges all parties to Middle East crisis to help end tragedy

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today in New York that the Middle East region was facing a "major crisis" and stressed that all the parties involved must work together to help "in ending the tragedy and getting back to the table."

In remarks made to reporters prior to a private meeting with Israel's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shimon Peres, Mr. Annan said he was actively engaged with the parties to the current conflict and with other leaders who were trying to make a difference on the ground. The objective was to get the parties to settle, he noted, stressing that Israel and the Palestinians would have to take reciprocal steps to end the violence.

"I think that the discussions that appear to be taking place between the Israelis and the Egyptians and the Jordanians seem to show some flexibility in how they are approaching the crisis, so I am encouraged," Mr. Annan added.

Following the meeting, Mr. Peres briefed correspondents on his exchange of views with the Secretary-General, which he described as "candid and responsible".

The Foreign Minister said he had expressed his appreciation to Mr. Annan for his constructive speech at summit of the League of Arab States held in Amman last March, as well as for the role the UN had played in the attempt to bring "tranquillity and integrity" to Lebanon.

He added that he had informed the Secretary-General about the present status of talks on security in the territories and also about his recent visits to Egypt to Jordan, where he had found a very serious and supportive mood to bring an end to the violence.

Earlier, on Saturday, the Secretary-General pledged to keep UN blue helmets on the ground in Lebanon, where the world body has deployed peacekeepers for over two decades.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday following a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Mr. Annan ruled out a withdrawal of UN forces at the current stage, stressing that the Organization's presence would be reconfigured to allow for greater mobility.

"It is a question of restructuring and giving the force the mobility to do the work that it has to do," he said. "The numbers may be smaller but we will be there and actively engaged."

According to a UN spokesman, the Secretary-General's latest report on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is expected to be released shortly.