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Middle East: Warning that violence could spread, UN envoy pursues contacts

Middle East: Warning that violence could spread, UN envoy pursues contacts

Amid growing international concern over the latest spate of Middle East violence, a top United Nations envoy met today with senior Palestinian officials and then headed for Jordan and Syria for more high-level meetings.

Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, held what was described as a "constructive" meeting in Ramallah with Yasser Arafat, the President of the Palestinian Authority. He also met with Abu Mazen, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Abu Alaa, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

According to a statement issued in Beirut and Gaza, Mr. Roed-Larsen's regional political and diplomatic efforts are being undertaken "amid the dangerous new situation resulting from the recent renewed violence, including action on different fronts."

Recent events have "widespread regional implications," the statement said, noting that earlier Mr. Roed-Larsen had warned that the situation was close to a point where "the violence threatens to spin out of control."

At the same time, Mr. Roed-Larsen noted that there were grounds for optimism and that progress was possible. "We must all ensure that the talking continues," he stressed, adding, "no one can afford a regional conflict."

The envoy is scheduled to meet tonight in Amman with Jordan's Foreign Minister, Abdel Ilah Al Khateeb, before travelling to Syria. In Damascus, Mr. Roed-Larsen is expected to meet tomorrow with senior Syrian officials.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of a key UN committee monitoring Palestinian rights has called for "prompt and decisive international action" to stop the current spate of violence and bring the parties back to the negotiating table.

In a just-released letter to the Secretary-General, as well as to the Presidents of the Security Council and General Assembly, Ibra Deguene Ka, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, calls attention to recent "harsh and disproportionate" Israeli military attacks. He urges the Secretary-General to intensify contacts with the parties concerned to help end the crisis and restart the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

"In view of a particularly tense and volatile situation on the ground, efforts within the United Nations to ensure protection of Palestinian civilians acquire special urgency," Mr. Ka notes.