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UN official: Only Dialogue Can Bring Mid-East Peace
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Crisis and opportunity exist side by side in the Middle East and only simultaneous dialogue with all parties in the conflict will bring lasting peace to the region, according to Alvaro de Soto, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, on Thursday.

Briefing the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, he noted that at the heart of the conflict is the problem of Israel and Palestine, where a deadly crisis continues in Gaza.

He told the council that since June 25, Israeli operations have killed 295 Palestinians and injured 1,113 others, while rocket attacks by the Palestinians have injured 20 Israelis.

He also drew attention to the political crisis of the Palestinian Authority, which has for several months been governed by a President and a Prime Minister with divergent programs, and has been polarized by deadly clashes between rival security forces.

"The continuing violence in Gaza and southern Israel continues to kill, injure, and endanger civilians. Palestinian militant rocket fire should cease, as should Israeli military operations," he said, adding that Israel's operations had intensified following the capture in June of one of its soldiers although he remains in captivity and rocket attacks continue.
He stressed that the long-term goal of the international community is not only peace between Israel and Palestine, but also peace between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon.

De Soto also said the other issue that must be overcome is the "political crisis" of the Palestinian Authority, whose President and Prime Minister follow "divergent programs," and he warned that the society is "teetering between national unity one day and civil conflict the next."

On the situation in the West Bank, he noted that settlement activity is still going on and obstacles to movement have risen by 40 percent in a year, although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he was willing to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and aides are now exploring this possibility.

Turning to Lebanon, he said that the fragile balance between crisis and opportunity, he noted, is apparent in Lebanon, where momentum has been generated in the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, but the country's heavy political tensions remain a constant source of concern.

"A serious and systematic search for peace in the region requires dialogue with all the parties in the conflict to ensure that crises are managed and opportunities explored, and that developments on one track are not undermined by developments on another," he said.

Acknowledging there was no quick-fix to solving the problem, he said the "route of national unity" offers perhaps the only solution to stem the slide into anarchy for Palestinian society, which is also facing a major financial crisis.

Stressing the important role played by the Quartet - comprising the UN, the EU, Russia and the US - in working toward long-lasting peace, the UN envoy said the group had reaffirmed its commitment to the Road Map last month, as a means to realizing the goal of "two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."

He said the UN was working closely with all sides to encourage political leaders to commit themselves to dialogue to bridge their differences, a goal that the world body seeks for the region generally.

"The UN's objectives remain security and full recognition to the state of Israel within internationally recognized borders; an end to the occupation of the Palestinian people in an independent, sovereign state; recovery of lost land to Syria; and a fully sovereign and secure Lebanon through the full implementation of all relevant resolutions of this Council," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency October 20, 2006)

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