Following meetings with top Israeli and Palestinian officials, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has issued a broad appeal to all those involved in the Middle East conflict to seize the current - and fleeting - opportunity for peace.
"I appeal to everyone to work actively for peace, for the sake of the people, for the sake of the region and for the sake of the two parties involved," Mr. Annan told a press conference in Ramallah following his meeting on Saturday with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
"I think we have an opportunity, but a brief one, a fleeting opportunity to resolve this issue, and we should seize the moment," Mr. Annan observed. "If we don't seize it may move away from us."
For his part, President Arafat told reporters, "We are disciplined and we are committed to fulfilling all the agreements related to the ceasefire, and we hope the other side will make the same commitment."
The Secretary-General said he was gratified that both the Palestinians and the Israelis had accepted the ceasefire "so that we can move on to the other essential and important aspects of the Mitchell report." That report, named for former United States Senator George Mitchell who chaired the committee that produced it, contains recommendations geared towards halting the violence and bringing the parties back to the negotiating table.
Asked whether the Mitchell committee report had replaced United Nations resolutions on the issue, Mr. Annan replied, "The UN resolutions stand, and are relevant." He noted that the report contained constructive suggestions to break the current cycle of violence and move on to confidence-building measures. "So, if you wish, the Mitchell Report provides a road map to the negotiating table, and at the negotiating table the discussions that will take place will be in the framework of land-for-peace, which is the essence of the UN resolutions."
Following the press conference, the Secretary-General met with top-level officials from the Palestinian Authority and from the United States. He also visited UN-run projects in the Occupied Territories that educate children and help the injured.
Mr. Annan then departed for Jerusalem, where he had a private dinner at the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Saturday evening.
On Sunday, the Secretary-General met with a number of Israeli leaders from different parts on the political spectrum, starting with an impromptu visit by former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Among other officials, he met with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
During a press conference which followed their meeting, the Foreign Minister welcomed the Secretary-General warmly, underscoring the importance of his present mission to the Middle East and adding that Mr. Annan could carry a message of "hope and promise."
The Secretary-General said his purpose in coming to the region was "to seize the opportunity offered by the present ceasefire and to use it to help restore the movement towards a lasting peace, negotiated within the framework of United Nations resolutions."
He added that he was encouraged that both President Arafat and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had repeated to him their commitment to fully implement the recommendations of the Mitchell committee. He said he had been pressing both parties to agree on timelines, "and to accept the help of third parties in whom they both have confidence."
The Secretary-General later visited a high school outside Tel Aviv that had lost seven of its students in a recent suicide bombing.
Mr. Annan then departed for London, where he met privately today with his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen.