Ban again urges Israel to restrain settlement building in occupied Palestinian territory

Ban again urges Israel to restrain settlement building in occupied Palestinian territory

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday called on Israel to restore a settlement moratorium in occupied Palestinian territory and warned that mishandling of the independence referendum in Southern Sudan could spark renewed conflict, UN website reported.

He also stressed the independence of the United Nations-backed tribunal entrusted with uncovering the truth behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in 2005, and denied that a human rights report on massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had been toned down to save face for neighbouring countries cited in the report who also contribute troops to UN peacekeeping forces.

"In recent days I have spoken with principal players on each side, including [Israeli] Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu and President [Mahmoud] Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, as well as US special envoy George Mitchell," Mr. Ban told his monthly news conference, citing the Middle East conflict first in a review of issues discussed in the mini-summits and bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the recent opening of this year's General Assembly.

"All told me they were committed to finding solutions to the problems immediately before us. All want to keep the peace process going. I urge Israel to restore settlement restraint, under its Roadmap obligations, and I urge Arab leaders meeting in Sirte to keep doors open and support President Abbas. Negotiations should move forward intensively, focused on resolving core issues - not talks for the sake of talks."

The Roadmap refers to the internationally endorsed plan to establish a Palestinian State living side by side with Israel in peace and security. Israel did not extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement building that expired at the end of September, without which Mr. Abbas has said he will not continue the peace talks, an issue he will discuss with other Arab League leaders at a meeting on Friday in Sirte, Libya.

Mr. Ban noted that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon came up in a number of meetings. "I want to be perfectly clear. This tribunal is independent, with a clear mandate from the Security Council to uncover the truth and end impunity," he stressed. "That work is important and it must go ahead. I urge all Lebanese and regional parties not to prejudge the outcome, nor to interfere in the Tribunal's work."

The Tribunal is an independent body that was set up in The Hague in the Netherlands, following a probe by an independent international commission after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon's own inquiry into the massive car bombing in February 2005 was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack.

Mr. Ban today reviewed the Middle East negotiations and Lebanon in talks with Israeli opposition leader and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni. While concern was expressed at reports of the rearmament of Hizbollah, with whom Israel fought a month-long war in 2006, the Secretary-General urged respect for the Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon.

As he has in the past, Mr. Ban called on Israel to cease its over-flights of Lebanese territory and expressed the hope that progress could soon be realized on Ghajar, the northern part of which is still occupied by Israel, according to his spokesperson.

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