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Annan urges Israel to halt attack in West Bank

Annan urges Israel to halt attack in West Bank

Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged Israel to halt its strikes against a Palestinian-controlled area in the West Bank, and to ensure that medical and relief workers could reach those hurt in the attack.

"The Secretary-General is very disturbed to learn that, in spite of international calls on Israel to withdraw its armed forces from Palestinian controlled areas in the West Bank, Israel has instead intensified its occupation of those areas," said his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, in a statement released in New York.

Mr. Eckhard cited particular concern over reports from the village of Beit Rima, where Israeli forces launched a major assault today resulting in substantial loss of life. "The Secretary-General calls on Israel to cease this attack immediately, withdraw all its forces from Area A [which is under full Palestinian control] and also ensure that Palestinian ambulances and ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] personnel have full access to the wounded in the village," the spokesman said.

Mr. Eckhard also repeated Mr. Annan's longstanding call for a return to the negotiating table. "The Secretary-General reiterates that this further dangerous escalation, quite apart from being a breach of signed agreements, only deepens the cycle of violence in the region where tensions are already at boiling point," the statement said. Stressing that there was no alternative to a negotiated political solution to the conflict, the spokesman said that Mr. Annan strongly urged the parties "to return to this path."

Meanwhile in Gaza, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, met today with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who informed him of the Israeli Defence Force incursion into and around the West Bank village of Beit Rima.

In New York, spokesman Eckhard noted that while it was difficult to obtain information about the village as the Israeli operation continued, "our office in Gaza says that at least nine Palestinians have been confirmed killed, and many others are reported injured."

Late on Tuesday, the UN Security Council met to consider a letter from the Ambassadors of Mali and Qatar requesting "an immediate meeting" to deal with the question of Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas. "Council members discussed the issue, but did not come to any decision yesterday afternoon on holding such a meeting," said Mr. Eckhard, adding that the body's current President, Ambassador Richard Ryan of Ireland, would continue to consult with the members on possible Security Council action in the coming days.