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Middle East: Annan urges consolidation of 'fragile' ceasefire

Middle East: Annan urges consolidation of 'fragile' ceasefire

Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged a consolidation of the "fragile" ceasefire in the Middle East, while calling for the adoption of measures aimed at bringing the parties back to the negotiating table.

"At this decisive point, the cosponsors and other international parties should make a determined effort to prevent the unravelling of the peace process and bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together in order to reach an agreement that could bring demonstrable benefits to both sides," Mr. Annan said in a message to the UN International Meeting on the Question of Palestine in Madrid.

In the message which was delivered on his behalf by Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Annan pledged to "continue to do whatever it takes to contribute to these peace efforts."

He added that both sides must now make every effort to restore the ceasefire and move rapidly towards the implementation of the report produced by an international fact-finding committee headed by former United States Senator George Mitchell.

The Secretary-General also called attention to the toll which violence and closures have taken on the Palestinian economy. "The extent of the damage is enormous and is yet to be fully assessed," he said. With the Palestinian economy facing a "virtual collapse," he called for a massive assistance programme to help the affected people rebuild their lives. In particular, he urged donors to support the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

According to the UNRWA Commissioner-General, Peter Hansen, contributions to the Agency, which is in the midst of a financial crisis, have fallen short of needs. In a speech delivered on Monday to the European Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, Mr. Hansen said that if its current $32 million funding gap is not closed soon, the Agency would run out of cash by October. "The catastrophic effect of such an eventuality needs no further elaboration," he said.

"One of our major tasks is to keep the confidence of the refugee community in the strength and viability of the Agency," observed Mr. Hansen. "We need your generous and prompt assistance for your belief in humanitarian principles, and your interest in regional political stability."