Annan urges both sides in Middle East conflict to stop recent violence, resume talks

Annan urges both sides in Middle East conflict to stop recent violence, resume talks

Reiterating his conviction that a solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be reached through force, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged both sides to end the recent spate of violence and return to the bargaining table.

A statement released by Mr. Annan's spokesman in New York said that the Secretary-General continued to follow closely "the worrying developments" in the Middle East, deploring the destruction of the Palestinian radio and television station in Ramallah by Israeli forces on 19 January.

"He is very concerned by the major Israeli incursion today into the Palestinian city of Tulkarem, in contravention of signed bilateral agreements," the statement said. "He again urges both sides to make every effort to stop the violence and rededicate their efforts to achieving a durable ceasefire leading to the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations and starting a meaningful dialogue aimed at a just and lasting peace based on United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338."

Meanwhile Mr. Annan's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, met in Ramallah with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat.

Earlier, Mr. Roed-Larsen's office issued a statement in which the Special Coordinator warned that Israel's actions in Tulkarem constituted a dangerous escalation that would lead to more loss of life on both sides and called for a rapid reversal of Israel's actions as well as a lifting of the tight restrictions in Ramallah.

Mr. Roed-Larsen recalled that last Friday, the Secretary-General had condemned in a statement the "murderous attack" in Hadera by a Palestinian gunman and emphasized that the UN stood "four-square" against terrorism, no matter what purpose it was stated to achieve. Mr. Roed-Larsen's own statement on Friday echoed those sentiments.

Today, Mr. Roed-Larsen stressed that Israel had legitimate concerns about continued attacks from Palestinian areas against Israeli citizens. He said, however, that the way to reduce violence was not through force, but through entry into the Mitchell process, referring to a set of recommendations put forward by former US Senator George Mitchell.

Mr. Roed-Larsen said that by repeatedly placing new conditions on entry into Mitchell, Israel "had squandered an opportunity" during almost one month of relative calm to move into the Mitchell recommendations. He stressed that the recommendations contain explicit requirements accepted by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to act to prevent terrorism and punish those responsible, in addition to additional "cooling-off" measures, including an end to incitement, other PA actions to control violence, a settlement freeze, and an opening of the closures.

Immediate "entry into Mitchell" was in the best interests of both parties, Mr. Larsen said, noting that it would not constitute negotiating under fire as no negotiations were necessary: the requirements for both parties were clearly specified and could be implemented without political negotiations. "Political negotiations would resume in the so-called 'confidence-building phase' of Mitchell," he said.