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Ban urges Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take ‘bold steps’ towards peace

Ban urges Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take ‘bold steps’ towards peace

Kiyo Akasaka (left) at International Media Seminar in Lisbon
With the coming weeks critical in moving towards direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the leaders of both sides to surmount domestic political pressures and take “bold steps” to achieve peace in the region.

With proximity talks under way, “it is vital for the parties to refrain from provocations and seize this opportunity,” Mr. Ban said in a message to a United Nations meeting under way in Lisbon, Portugal.

A two-State solution is vital for Israel “to maintain its democratic character and identity and gain security and legitimacy throughout the region,” he stressed, adding that it is also essential for Palestinians “to achieve genuine freedom and national self-determination, and to end the occupation.”

In the address, delivered by Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Mr. Ban cautioned that the clock is ticking for a two-State solution.

Earlier this month, in a move welcomed by the Secretary-General and other UN officials, the Israeli Government announced it was increasing the scope and quantity of materials allowed into Gaza. Since then, new food and productive items have entered the Strip and the volume of imports into the area has risen steadily.

Mr. Ban today welcomed recent Israeli moves towards a new policy on Gaza, but stressed that “full and swift implementation is crucial, as are further measures beyond those announced,” as well as an end to the blockade.

For its part, he emphasized, Hamas should enforce an extended ceasefire and move ahead with Egypt’s reconciliation proposals with the “legitimate Palestinian Authority of President [Mahmoud] Abbas.”

On the issue of prisoners, the Secretary-General said that he continues to call for the conclusion of a prisoner exchange agreement. “It serves no Palestinian interest to keep Corporal Gilad Shalit in captivity; access should be granted to him and he should be released,” Mr. Ban said about the Israeli soldier who has been detained for more than four years.

The media seminar being held in the Portuguese capital is the 18th such gathering organized by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI), and aims to sensitize public opinion on the issue of Palestine and the peace process.

“The growing use of new media in the Middle East offers truly exciting opportunities to reach wider audiences, particularly young people,” the Secretary-General said today.

“I encourage young Israelis and Palestinians to use these new tools to spread positive messages that will encourage a culture of peace, coexistence and better understanding between their people”

The focus of this year’s gathering is the role of women from both sides in achieving security in the Middle East, with this year marking the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the historic Security Council resolution 1325, which stresses the importance of giving women equal participation and full involvement in peace and security matters.

“The core message of that landmark text – sustainable peace is possible only with the perspectives, leadership and full participation of women – is one we must take to heart in all regions, including the Middle East,” Mr. Ban told the Lisbon event, voicing hope that both sides will step up women’s involvement in the search for peace.

Some 120 people from the region, including both Israelis and Palestinians, and from the rest of the world are expected to attend the two-day seminar which kicked off today, including Government officials, representatives of civil society organizations, academics and journalists.

Five panel sessions will be held during the seminar on topics such as the role of the Israeli and Palestinian media in reducing tensions and the part that mayors from both sides can play in advancing peace.

The participants include Jorge Sampaio, the former Portuguese president and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, set up under UN auspices to promote better cross-cultural relations worldwide, and Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.