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UN chief discusses Middle East peace process with US special envoy

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and United States Special Envoy George Mitchell discussed continuing efforts to get the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, as well as the situation in Gaza.

During their telephone conversation on Monday, the two men discussed the proposal put forward several months ago by Mr. Mitchell, who was in the region recently for meetings, for the Israelis and Palestinians to begin indirect talks with US mediation.

The Secretary-General thanked Mr. Mitchell for his determined efforts and reiterated the UN’s support, according to information provided by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

At its meeting in Moscow in March, the diplomatic Quartet promoting Middle East peace – comprising the UN, European Union, US and Russia – called on the Israeli and Palestinian sides to resume negotiations as soon as possible with the aim of reaching a settlement within two years.

On Gaza, Mr. Ban told Mr. Mitchell that there had been some progress since his own visit in March, though much more needed to be done, and he sought the US envoy’s continued support to that end.

During his visit to Gaza earlier this year, the Secretary-General had noted that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip – instituted for what it called security reasons after Hamas took over power there in 2007 – “causes unacceptable suffering of human beings,” with half of the area’s population, which is under the age of 18, suffering the most.

“The policy is also counter-productive,” he emphasized. “It prevents legitimate commerce and encourages smuggling. It undercuts moderates and empowers extremists.”

Last week, the top UN official in Gaza told reporters that the recent easing of some Israeli restrictions on the entry of goods into the territory is welcome but infinitesimal when compared to the needs of the 1.5 million Palestinians living there.

“[It is] a drop in the bucket,” said John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). “The context is so great, the scale of the need is so large.”

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