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Multinational force can help restore trust between Israelis and Palestinians, UN envoy says

Multinational force can help restore trust between Israelis and Palestinians, UN envoy says

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal for a multinational force in the Middle East would help restore trust between the Israelis and Palestinians that is essential for ensuring the security goals of both sides and restarting the political process, Mr. Annan's top envoy to the region said today.

"Providing a credible multinational force would help address that most vital and most vulnerable of the institutions of peace - trust," Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said in his opening remarks to a press conference in Jerusalem.

Mr. Roed-Larsen said he shared the Secretary-General's view that the introduction of a multinational force would change both the "political and operational dynamics" in such a way that could underpin a ceasefire.

Such a move would also isolate and contain those on the Palestinian side who would use violence against Israeli civilians and a ceasefire, help restore the capacity of the Palestinian Authority security services to enforce their ceasefire orders, and enhance protection for both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, the Special Coordinator added.

Commenting on the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians, particularly in the Jenin refugee camp, which he visited yesterday with Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Mr. Roed-Larsen said what he had seen was "truly appalling," but noted that information on what had happened was as of yet incomplete.

"Let me be very clear - I have not and am not accusing anyone of massacres; we do not have the full facts from Jenin," the UN envoy stressed, adding that his primary criticism of the Israeli Government was that it did not act adequately to respond to the humanitarian situation in the camp.

Mr. Roed-Larsen said that his primary focus was ensuring that everything possible was done to save the lives of civilians and reduce their suffering. "Civilians in the camp are in desperate need of water, food, shelter, medical supplies and treatment," he said, calling for a lifting of the curfews and safe and unimpeded access for relief workers, as well as political and financial support to the humanitarian agencies working in the area.

As for the affect of the current situation on the Palestinian economy, Mr. Roed-Larsen said that it had moved from a relentless economic depression into "economic paralysis." At least 75 per cent of productive activities in the West Bank have come to a halt, and at least another three-fourths of the work force was now idle, resulting in dramatically reduced incomes, rising income losses and a sharply higher poverty rate.