UN chief in West Bank to push for peace talks

Last Updated: Sat, Mar 20, 2010 11:10 hrs

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in the West Bank city of Ramallah Saturday to push for talks that would eventually lead to direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

Upon arrival, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad took Ban on a tour of the concrete barrier Israel is building in the occupied territory to secure its settlements, Xinhua reported.

Ban said the Jewish settlements made the situation difficult and called on Israel to take more steps to ease the life of Palestinians, especially in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Later, Ban will go to Israel to talk to President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, besides other senior Israeli officials to clarify the UN's stance on Middle East peace.

Ban will visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip Sunday and also address a press conference.

The UN chief's second visit to the Palestinian territories comes a day after he joined a Middle East Quartet meeting which brought together US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Quartet representative Tony Blair to assess the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

At the meeting in Moscow, Ban urged Israel to freeze all settlement activities.

'The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity' in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Ban said.

A statement by the Quartet gave Israel and the PNA 24 months to start negotiations that would enable the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Last week, Israel approved the building of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their future capital, hindering a fresh US proposal to revive the peace talks between the two sides.

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