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Annan urges Israel to withdraw, backs Powell's mission 'all the way'

Annan urges Israel to withdraw, backs Powell's mission 'all the way'

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, today voiced concern over the unfolding tragedy in the Middle East and appealed to Israel's leadership to withdraw from Palestinian areas.

"The whole world is demanding that Israel withdraws - I don't think the whole world, including the friends of the Israeli people and Government, can be wrong," Mr. Annan told reporters in Madrid, where today he opened the UN Second World Assembly on Ageing.

"So I appeal to Prime Minister Sharon to heed the call, and move ahead with the implementation of the resolution," he stressed, referring to Security Council resolution 1402. "Of course the resolution also makes demands on the Palestinian leadership and I urge them also to honour that," he added.

"I think what is happening in the region, both Israel and Palestine, is a very painful thing for all of us to see the human tragedy and I also regret to say that the longer this goes on, the more it erodes the moral and political position of Israel in the world and I hope that Prime Minister Sharon would bear that in mind as well," the Secretary-General said.

Describing the tragic humanitarian situation, Mr. Annan said, "it is really very, very serious when you consider that a large number of people are without water, they are short of food and medication, and the humanitarian workers, from Red Cross to Red Crescent to UNWRA [UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], do not have a freedom of movement."

The Secretary-General voiced full backing for the forthcoming visit to the Middle East by United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. "We are solidly with him and I hope he will have a successful mission," said the Secretary-General, warning, "It's not going to be easy."

"He doesn't have a magic wand, so we should not expect miracles," Mr. Annan stressed. "It's a tough mission but we will be with him all the way."