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Annan urges civil society groups to help parties in Middle East understand each other

Annan urges civil society groups to help parties in Middle East understand each other

Pledging United Nations support for efforts to end the conflict in the Middle East, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged civil society groups to also do their part to foster greater understanding between the parties.

"Joint grass roots initiatives between Palestinian and Israeli [non-governmental organizations], as well as Jewish and Arab groups in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, should be encouraged," the Secretary-General said in a statement to the International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People, which got underway today at UN Headquarters in New York.

"The public all over the world, especially within the most influential countries, has to be informed, so that it can grasp the broader picture and the issues at stake," he added. "Humanitarian assistance has to be provided urgently to the suffering Palestinian population."

The two-day Conference, organized by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, aims to give civil society organizations from around the world an opportunity to exchange views on the current situation in the Middle East and to coordinate their activities and develop action-oriented proposals in support of the Palestinian people.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General noted that the UN has been providing assistance to the Palestinians for more than half a century, with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) the longest-running relief effort undertaken by the Organization in any part of the world and a lifeline to more than 3.9 million Palestinians. Meanwhile, UN envoys have tried to address the political, security and humanitarian aspects of the conflict.

"In spite of all these endeavours, peace seems as far away as ever. To bring it once again within our reach, numerous factors have to be propitious, and pressure has to be brought to bear from many sides," the Secretary-General said in his message, which was delivered on his behalf by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast. "The political leadership of both parties has to be encouraged in the direction of accepting difficult compromises."