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Secretary-General urges continued talks despite recent bloodshed in Middle East

Secretary-General urges continued talks despite recent bloodshed in Middle East

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressing the Security Council
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today praised Palestinian and Israeli leaders for their commitment to the Middle East political process despite the recent spike of violence, and urged that the targets for a settlement that were set in last year’s talks be kept.

Opening a Security Council briefing and debate this morning that included over 20 other speakers, the Secretary-General recalled that the parties projected reaching an agreement by the end of 2008 when they met in Annapolis, United States in November 2007.

“It is my hope that we can achieve this ambitious goal,” he added. “I believe all of us must ask ourselves, and the parties, two simple questions: If not this, what? If not now, when?”

He commended Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for their commitment to the process, despite the death toll in Gaza and Israel that peaked earlier this month and the ongoing high tensions.

“I am personally and profoundly committed to supporting this process in every way I can, and I admire both leaders for their tenacity in the face of much scepticism,” he said.

Mr. Ban urged the international community, particularly members of the Security Council, to ramp up their support for a negotiated settlement, saying it was too important to be allowed to lose momentum through inaction or indifference, or to be overwhelmed by violence.

At the same time, he expressed deep concern over the prospect of renewed violence in Gaza and southern Israel, and what this would mean both for the civilian populations in the conflict zone and for the peace process itself.

Briefing the Council on events of this past month, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe regretted that continuing efforts to advance the peace process were once again overshadowed by high numbers of civilian casualties and a lack of concrete improvements on the ground.

During the reporting period, he said, 124 Palestinians, including 36 children, were killed in operations of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and 359 were injured, while 13 Israelis, including four children, were killed by Palestinian militants, with 55 injured. Over 390 rockets and mortar rounds were fired into Israel, including longer-range rockets.

Mr. Pascoe stressed, however, that the very fact that the talks between Israelis and Palestinians were continuing was extremely important. He said he could not report on progress because confidentiality between the leaders was being maintained, which he also saw as a positive sign.

Meetings between the heads of the two negotiating teams resumed recently and the work of a number of technical groups formed between the parties is being pursued, he reported.

In addition, he said that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and a senior official in the Israeli Ministry of Defence attended the first trilateral meeting on monitoring of implementation of the first phase of commitments under the so-called Road Map peace framework.

Mr. Pascoe called on the international community and all regional parties to give strong support to efforts to bring about a cessation of violence in and around Gaza to reopen Gaza crossings, in an atmosphere where the security concerns of the Palestinians, Israel and Egypt are addressed.

On Lebanon, he said the country continues to be in the grip of a deep political crisis. “The longer the stalemate continues, the greater the chance for the situation to deteriorate further, both politically and in terms of the security situation,” he said.