Diplomacy Intensifies to Bring End to Mideast Conflict , UN Chief to Step in
Efforts at the diplomatic and security levels have been intensified to shore up a cease-fire declared in the Palestinian lands and Israel, albeit marred with sporadic violent confrontations.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Friday he would visit the Middle East next week to push forward international efforts to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to implement the Mitchell report.
Annan was quoted by AFP as telling reporters that he would start his tour in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, would go on to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, and "end up in Jerusalem and Gaza".
Annan said his aim was to get the Israelis and Palestinians to go beyond a ceasefire and embark on a cooling-off period, start implementing confidence-building measures, and renew negotiations as recommended by the Mitchell commission.
The five-man commission, led by former US senator George Mitchell, was set up in October to look into the causes of violence in the Palestinian territories which
"As long as the ceasefire is holding, there is a chance for political movement, but the two parties can't do it alone" because so much mistrust had grown up in recent months, said Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard.
Annan "feels that it will take a major push on the part of the international community to get things going in the right direction," Eckhard said.
The dead include 20 young people killed by a suicide bomber as they stood in line to enter a beachside nightclub in Tel Aviv on June 1.
The following day, at the urging of US President George W. Bush and other world leaders, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat ordered "a total and immediate ceasefire on Israeli targets.”
Arafat's decision probably pre-empted massive Israeli retaliation and an end to the period of restraint ordered by Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon on May 22, but reportedly was not totally respected by the Israeli side.
Asked if he was afraid of his mission being derailed by an act of terrorism, Annan said he would emphasize to both sides that "once they have made the strategic choice for peace, they should stay the course."
They must "not allow the terrorists to lead the game, not allow the terrorists to determine when they meet, when they pursue peace and when they don't," he said.
Annan said he would meet leaders in the Middle East "to seek their views, to exchange ideas, to explore with them how collectively we can work together to end the tragedy and the violence, and move the parties back to the table."
The UN leader said he had been in touch "almost on a daily basis with (US) Secretary of State Colin Powell," as well as with the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
"There are no divergences of views or separate initiatives," Annan said.
Annan noted that George Tenet, the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, and US envoy William Burns were in the region as part of a two-pronged drive to bolster the ceasefire.
Tenet met Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs together in the Palestinian-run town of Ramallah in the West Bank, against a background of sporadic but reduced violence, said AFP.
The security talks were the first since the devastating suicide bombing outside the Tel Aviv nightclub on June 1.
Palestinian officials said they would renew their demands for a complete lifting of Israel's punitive siege on their land, but also said they were willing to hand over recently discovered information on new networks of anti-Israeli militants.
Tenet met with the Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs for nearly three hours at Palestinian offices just a quarter mile from a Ramallah intersection where Israeli forces and Palestinians exchange gunfire most every Friday. This Friday, those guns were quiet, according to Haaretz.
The meeting ended with an agreement to continue the dialogue between the two sides. Israel was represented by the head of the General Security Service, Avi Dichter, and senior army officers – including the heads of the three regional commands. The Palestinians were represented by Palestinian security chiefs Tawfik Tirawi, Jibril Rjoub, Mohammed Dahlan and Amin Hindi.
Israel demanded that the Palestinians arrest dozens of activists from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations and bring an end to the violence and incitement.
Security sources were quoted by Haaretz as saying the meeting took place in a “satisfactory atmosphere.” However, expectations of future progress stemming from the meeting were low.
None of the officials present at the meeting spoke to the press at the conclusion of the meeting.
Burns, meanwhile, held parallel political meetings with Arafat and with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, saying he was "working out a plan and timeline" for implementing the Mitchell report.
According to Haaretz, Burns told Peres that the coming week would be "crucial" in efforts to end the violence and reignite the shattered peace process, as the administration of President Bush launched a two-pronged security-diplomatic drive in its most concerted push so far to douse the hostilities.
Burns met both Peres and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat on Friday as part of an effort to develop a plan for implementing the recommendations of the Mitchell report. While calling on Burns to ensure that the U.S. kept up pressure on Arafat to end the violence, Peres refused to discuss the issue of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, insisting that Israel would only broach the issue once the violence ended.
Peres did, however, reiterate Israel’s support for the Mitchell report.
After meeting with Arafat, Burns told reporters: "The urgent priority now... is to try and stabilize the security situation and ensure that words are accompanied by deeds and that we are able to translate our calls for an unconditional and immediate cease-fire into a more secure situation on the ground." Once the truce had been stabilized, Burns said the two sides could "move to the implementation of the Mitchell report." -- Albawaba.com
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