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Israel and Palestinians must "stay the course" of peace - senior UN official

13 June Saying that "the alternative is no alternative," a senior United Nations official today urged Israel and the Palestinians to "stay the course" of the latest peace initiative in the face of a recent upsurge of violence, and he exhorted the international community to do everything possible to help them do so.

Updating the Security Council on the Middle East in a periodic briefing, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast noted that the last month had witnessed the most promising opening in nearly three years with the launching of the Road Map plan, which calls on Israelis and Palestinians to take parallel and reciprocal steps culminating in two states living side by side in peace and security by 2005.

United States President George W. Bush's personal engagement in last week's summit in Aqaba, Jordan "generated enormous hopes and expectations," he told the Council in an open session. "Yet, the same period also witnessed the continuation of the sort of violence that has snuffed out every previous effort to renew the peace process."

He said the Road Map required Palestinians to stop "morally reprehensible" terrorist attacks, and Israel to "take no actions undermining trust" such as extra-judicial killings, as occurred this week in the attack on Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi. Israel should also stop using "excessive and disproportionate force" in civilian areas.

Noting that extremists on either side "will continue to do everything they can to stifle the nascent peace process," Mr. Prendergast declared: "In these circumstances the international community has a responsibility to do everything possible to help the parties remain on the path they set for themselves at Aqaba."

But there was no substitute for the commitment of the parties themselves to end the conflict. "Let us be clear," he said. "Stay the course they must. The alternative is no alternative."

As to the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, he said it had worsened since his last briefing less than a month ago. There was "continuing significant destruction" of property by Israeli forces, but the main problem was the closure of territory, preventing the circulation of people and economic activity.

While noting that Israel had a "right to self-defence in the face of repeated terrorist attacks," Mr. Prendergast said: "If the Palestinian Authority is to build effective institutions and gain the support of the Palestinian people for the peace process, it is essential that the closure regime be eased. It is incumbent upon Israel to pursue its security and self-defence in a manner that minimizes the suffering of Palestinian civilians."

Following the briefing Council members continued their discussions behind closed doors.

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