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Recent events in Middle East hopefully 'new start' on road to peace, Security Council told

18 May 2005 Recent events in the Middle East should hopefully be remembered as "a new start on the road towards peace" rather than a "slide back into conflict and violent confrontation," the senior political affairs officer at the United Nations told the Security Council today.

With violence between Israelis and Palestinians having declined since a meeting between their two leaders in Egypt earlier in the year, "We hope that in the near future Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon and President (Mahmoud) Abbas will continue the dialogue they began in Sharm el-Sheikh," Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast said during his monthly briefing on the Middle East.

"The doubts and suspicions on both sides may be understandable. But they need to be addressed through constructive engagement and sustained bilateral contacts," he said.

The level of violence since the summit was still below the level before the meeting, but reports indicated a slow but steady increase in violent incidents, "compounding a corresponding deterioration in trust and confidence between the two sides," he said.

To meet Israel's legitimate security concerns, the Palestinian Authority must produce tangible results from its strengthened efforts to end violent activities, while Israel should do more to support the Palestinians in a difficult task, he said.

It would be difficult for the Palestinian Authority to undertake sustained, and sustainable, action on security unless it is aided and supported in its efforts to rein in the militants and Israel's reported approval of the deployment of hundreds of Palestinian police in West Bank cities was a significant step forward, he said.

At the 9 May meeting in Moscow of representatives of the Quartet working to restore peace to the Middle East – the UN, United States, European Union and Russia – they asserted once more their commitment to the two-state solution and to Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank as a way of re-energizing the Road Map to peace, he said.

He noted that the continued construction of the Israel's barrier on the West Bank cut deeply into Palestinian territory and that on Monday the Israeli High Court of Justice rescinded the temporary injunctions that it had imposed on its erection.

Meanwhile, unemployment among Palestinians increased slightly to 32 per cent in the first quarter of this year, leading to protest marches by the unemployed in Gaza. "We hope that the programme in preparation by the Quartet's Special Envoy will make a significant contribution to alleviating the effects of the continued crisis,"' he said, referring to former World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

The other envoys with mandates to assist with the implementation of the Road Map peace plan are Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto, US Envoy David Welsh and the US Security Coordinator for the withdrawal, Gen. William Ward.

On Lebanon, he said a UN electoral team was there to help with technical issues for the 29 May parliamentary elections.

He also confirmed that Detlev Mehlis, the head of the International Independent Investigation Commission probing the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri would go to Lebanon shortly.

Mr. Mehlis' staff would follow on a rolling basis and would work as quickly as possible, he said.

Mr. Prendergast also expressed concern about rising tensions along the Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon, especially the exchange of fire last week, saying, "The risk was great that events could spiral out of control."

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