In Ramallah, UN chief pleads for end to ‘dangerous escalation’

Friday 16/10/2015
Ban: Ultimately, it is for Palestinians and Israelis to choose peace

RAMALLAH - UN chief Ban Ki-moon pleaded for an end to spiralling violence on Wednesday as he met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in a bid to calm three weeks of deadly unrest.

The UN secretary general's meeting with Abbas came after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, when he called on both sides to end a "dangerous escalation" threatening a full-scale uprising.

Ban, at least publicly, offered no concrete proposals to end the unrest, but spoke of returning to "meaningful negotiations," after more than a year of frozen peace efforts and seething frustration with Israel's occupation.

He said that "we need to act immediately to prevent any further worsening of an already unsustainable status quo."

"We will continue to support all efforts to create the conditions to make meaningful negotiations possible," Ban said after meeting Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"But ultimately it is for Palestinians and Israelis to choose peace. Our most urgent challenge is to stop the current wave of violence and avoid any further loss of life."

Ban said that "the only way to end the violence is through real and visible progress toward a political solution, including an end of the occupation".

Abbas called on Israel to strictly respect rules governing Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters at the compound in September preceded the current wave of violence.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Abbas of inciting violence by suggesting that Israel wants to change the status of the compound.

Muslims fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Jews are allowed to visit but not pray to avoid provoking tensions, and Netanyahu has said repeatedly he has no intention of changing the rules.

"The continued occupation and aggression against Christian and Muslim holy sites in east Jerusalem, particularly against Al-Aqsa, opens the door to a religious conflict, which has unfortunately started," said Abbas.

"We don't want it and we are warning over its consequences."

Netanyahu showed little room for compromise when meeting Ban late Tuesday, harshly criticising Abbas for "fanning the flames" of violence and rejecting allegations that Israel has used excessive force.

As he stood next to Ban, Netanyahu argued sternly against suggestions that Israel's continued occupation, long-stalled peace efforts and Jewish settlement building had led to the current unrest.

"I believe it is time to tell the truth about the causes of Palestinian terrorism," he said.

"It is not the settlements, it is not the peace process, it is the desire to destroy the state of Israel pure and simple."

With international concern increasing, US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Netanyahu on Thursday in Germany as well as Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah later at an unspecified location in the Middle East.

Kerry has also spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who proposed that a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators be held on Friday in Vienna. The quartet includes Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

The unrest continued even during Ban's visit.

On Wednesday, a woman was shot and wounded after allegedly approaching an Israeli settlement with a knife on Wednesday morning.

Later in the day, an Israeli soldier was severely wounded in a stabbing near a West Bank settlement on Wednesday while her attacker was shot dead.

At least 47 Palestinians and one Arab Israeli have been killed in the upsurge in violence that began at the start of the month, including alleged attackers. Eight Israelis have died in attacks.

Violent protests have also erupted in annexed east Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Many of the attackers have been young Palestinians who appear to be acting alone, making it hard for Israeli authorities to counter. Most incidents have seen the attackers stab Israelis before being shot dead.

When meeting Netanyahu on Tuesday, Ban acknowledged the security challenges for Israel and the fears of residents facing a wave of gun, knife and car-ramming attacks.

He said he was "deeply troubled by statements from Palestinian militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad praising such heinous attacks."

At the same time, he warned against overzealous security measures that could exacerbate tensions, with Israel facing accusations of using excessive force against Palestinians in the current wave of violence.

Videos that have spread online showing Israeli forces shooting alleged attackers have added to anger, with Palestinians seeing some of the shootings as unjustified.

The Israeli leader strongly rejected such accusations.

Ban also met families of the victims of the latest wave of violence. Later this week, he is expected to meet King Abdullah II of Jordan, who has previously acted as a mediator.

He was also to brief the UN Security Council by video conference on his trip.