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Ban Ki-moon ‘encouraged’ by recent progress in Middle East conflict

Ban Ki-moon ‘encouraged’ by recent progress in Middle East conflict

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he was encouraged by recent international efforts to return Palestinians and Israelis to the path of negotiations, but warned the leaders of both sides still face internal obstacles that may prevent any serious momentum towards peace.

In a message to the opening of the two-day UN International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace taking place in Brussels, Mr. Ban said several recent initiatives “all have the potential to result in a significant breakthrough” in the long-running conflict.

He cited the Arab Peace Initiative, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s recent appointment of the Representatives of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet and United States President George W. Bush’s decision to convene a major meeting on the issue in November.

“Amidst this activity, I particularly welcome the decision by [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert and [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas to meet regularly to discuss a range of issues,” Mr. Ban said in his message, which was delivered by Angela Kane, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

“I hope that the internal challenges each faces will not deter them from moving forward with discussions on the political horizon.”

Mr. Ban stressed that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains “one of the foremost priorities of the United Nations. The continued occupation of the Palestinian territory prolongs hardship and injustice for millions of Palestinians, yet it has also failed to ensure the security of Israeli civilians.”

Both sides need to demonstrate renewed commitment to a two-State solution, he said, calling on Israel to stop settlement activity and construction of the barrier and to ease restrictions of Palestinian movements, and urging Palestinians to make every effort to end the violence of militants and to make more progress on building robust institutions.

The Secretary-General said the UN’s efforts to bring peace “would prove close to impossible without the active participation and support of innumerable civil society groups and individuals in Israel, in the occupied Palestinian territory, and around the world” who provide humanitarian relief and help to build bridges between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

But he also warned that any political progress “cannot obscure the dire humanitarian situation on the ground,” with the conditions in the Gaza Strip particularly acute because of the closure of border crossings.