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UN Chief to visit Israel, Palestine to encourage peace talks

United Nations: UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will travel to Israel and Palestine next week to encourage the two sides to re-engage in dialogue and move the peace process forward.

Ban's visit will be part of his tour to the Middle East where he will also travel to Jordan. He will also be participating in the ongoing World Economic Forum in Davos.

Reuters

"My visit comes at an important moment. Israelis and Palestinian negotiators began preparatory talks in Amman, in line with the most recent statement by the Quartet," the UN Chief told reporters at a news briefing here. He said he will "encourage both sides to re-engage in earnest and create a positive atmosphere for moving forward."

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators began preparatory talks at the beginning of this month in Amman, facilitated by King Abdullah of Jordan and the country's Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh.

Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians stalled in September 2010 after Israel refused to extend its freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory.

That decision prompted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw from direct talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which had only resumed a few weeks earlier after a two-year hiatus.

The Quartet, comprising envoys of the UN, the EU, the US and Russia, seek to reach an Israel-Palestine peace deal by end of this year.

The Secretary-General also noted the one-year anniversary of the uprising in Egypt that led to the removal of the regime of Hosni Mubarak. "On this important day, I want to congratulate the people of Egypt on their peaceful transition to democracy and their determination to push for continuing change," he said.

"The lessons which we have learned these days, maybe in the past through all these situations, is that democracy is not easy. People were excited, they were full of hope and expectation – not only in Libya, but in Egypt, Tunisia and
elsewhere where we have seen this surge of expectation through the Arab Spring," he added.

On Syria, the UN Chief said he was "encouraged" by the Arab League's initiative to seek a political solution to the crisis but reiterated his call to President Bashar Al Assad to stop all violence and ensure protection of human rights.
In response to a question on Iran, Ban said he has repeatedly conveyed to Iranian leaders that the onus is on Tehran to prove that its nuclear development programme is genuinely for peaceful purposes and does not have a military dimesnion to it.

He added that the Western nations and Iran should try and "defuse the tension. These rhetorics are not helpful." In the backdrop of Iran's threats to close the crucial passageway of the Strait of Hormuz, Ban said the strait is a very important area for international trade and commerce and free passage of any ships in open seas should be respected and protected.

Ban also expressed concern over the internal fighting in Libya and urged nations to "seize this opportunity" and help countries in transition to establish the rule of law, based on inclusivity of dialogue and reconciliation.

PTI