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UN leader says time running out for Israel, Palestinians

UN chief Ban Ki-moon says he is not 'disappointed' regarding the Palestinian-Israel peace talks and proclaims efforts for reviving the process amid Israeli air-strikes on Gaza Strip that injured two Palestinians

Reuters, Friday 3 Feb 2012
Gaza
Palestinian protesters surround a vehicle in the convoy of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as it arrives at Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza February 2, 2012. (Photo:Reuters)
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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said time is running out for a settlement but he is not giving up, after Israeli and Palestinian leaders rejected a return to direct negotiations.

"Basically I am not disappointed, it is expected", Ban said late Thursday at the end of a three day trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories where he got little joy from political leaders and shoes hurled at him by protesters in Gaza.

"This is not an easy process. As I have very seriously engaged in dialogue with both parties, I believe that they will very seriously consider" future choices, Ban told reporters travelling with him.

At his final public appearance, the Herzliya security conference near Tel Aviv, Ban told Israeli politicians, officials and academics that concessions are needed. "I have spoken frankly today because I believe that time is running out," he told them.

The UN chief urged Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make "goodwill gestures" to bring the Palestinians back to direct negotiations, frozen since September 2010.

He said this could include freezing new Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu bluntly reaffirmed at their joint media conference that there can be no conditions for talks.

Ban praised efforts by Jordan's King Abdullah II to organise preliminary talks between the two sides this month. There is little sign of progress however.

Ban urged Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at a meeting in Ramallah to return to negotiations. Sources said Abbas told Ban he could renew a campaign to secure Palestinian membership of UN agencies if frustration over the peace deadlock is extended.

That promises new funding worries for the UN leader as the United States cut millions after the Palestinians were given membership of UNESCO.

Much may now depend on a package of measures that Tony Blair, envoy of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East -- the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations -- puts to the two sides.

Sources close to the Quartet said the measures would involve mainly "boosting the economy" of the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank. Some media reports say Israel's offer to the package is unlikely to tempt Abbas.

Ban said the former British prime minister is "working hard" on the package but refused to give details. "There are still some elements which may have to be addressed," he told reporters.

The Quartet has an ambitious target of reaching a point where a Palestinian state can be ready for creation by the end of the year.

According to Ban, 20 years of Israeli-Palestinian talks since the Madrid accords "delivered two decades of delay, mistrust and missed opportunities."

He warned that the Arab Spring uprisings had brought new pressure for the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

His parting message was that they must take "a hard look" at the way they deal with negotiations: either "business as usual as they have been doing during the last seven decades" or "adapt to the changing situation and seize this moment."

Meanwhile, two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were wounded by Israeli air-strikes early Friday morning, Palestinians said, only hours a visit of the UN chief to the Hamas-controlled territory.

According to a spokesman for Gaza emergency services, a three-and-a-half-year-old girl was seriously wounded by an air strike at a home in the northern Gaza Strip town Beit Lahiya, which also left a man moderately wounded.

Five other attacks in the central and southern Gaza Strip targeted tunnels and fields, as well as another house in Jablais in the northern Strip.

The Israeli military confirmed the attacks, which "targeted two weapon storing facilities in the northern Gaza Strip, three terror tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip and a weapon manufacturing facility in the central Gaza Strip," a statement read. "Direct hits were confirmed as well as secondary explosions at several targets."

"These sites were targeted in response to the rocket fire on communities in southern Israel," the statement noted.

On Wednesday night, Palestinian militants fired eight rockets into southern Israel from Gaza, all of which hit open fields and caused no damage.

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