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UN: Annan Urges Intensified International Role To Avert Mideast 'Abyss'

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is appealing to the UN Security Council and the international community to play a greater role in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also says any new round of negotiations must deal with the larger issues at the core of the dispute, including occupation, security, and economic deprivation. Security Council members promised to explore Annan's recommendations, but Israel's main ally in the 15-nation group -- the United States -- is not expected to endorse any Council action on the Mideast.

United Nations, 22 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Alarmed by the sharp escalation of violence in the Middle East, the UN Security Council has begun consultations on what role, if any, it should play in trying to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The council met yesterday at the urging of the Palestinian observer mission to the UN, which charged Israel with committing state terrorism against the Palestinian people. The council requested an immediate briefing from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Annan urged the council to play a more expanded role in moving the two sides toward a negotiated settlement.

"I truly believe that it is imperative for the Security Council and the wider international community to work in a concerted manner with the parties towards a just, lasting, and comprehensive peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Middle East."

Annan says he fears the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sliding toward full-fledged war. His comments came amid a surge in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli reprisals that have killed nearly 50 people since 18 February.

The secretary-general said there has been a total breakdown in trust between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, making a third-party role essential. Annan said there must be an immediate cease-fire, followed by talks aimed at finding a comprehensive solution of the conflict. Both parties, he said, must have a political horizon on which to base their hopes for peace and improved living conditions.

"Security cannot be dealt with in isolation. It has to have a context. It has to be addressed alongside key political issues, particularly the question of land, and the economic and social issues, including the increasingly critical, desperate conditions of the Palestinians."

The council last discussed the Middle East conflict in December, when it debated a resolution calling for a denunciation of terrorism and the appointment of international monitors to visit the region. The United States vetoed the resolution, repeating its view that Israel and the Palestinians need to solve their disputes bilaterally.

After Annan's address yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte told reporters that full-fledged peace efforts cannot move ahead until security concerns are properly addressed.

The council plans to hold a public debate on the Mideast conflict on 26 February. The council president, Mexican Ambassador Adolfo Zinser, read a statement in which the 15 Council members promised to examine Annan's suggestions.

"We will make a great effort to resolve differences. We all want to give to the organization and to the Security Council the opportunity today to be a part of the solution. Upon undertaking with you the new search for action by the United Nations in the Middle East, we share the conviction with you and the officers of the [UN] secretariat that the essential link for building peace is the political will of the parties."

The United States has been critical of previous attempts at UN Security Council action in the Mideast, calling them biased against Israel. It has repeatedly cited Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist attacks on civilians.

Israeli President Ariel Sharon said in a national address yesterday that there must be an end to violence by the Palestinians before peace talks can resume. Sharon also proposed setting up buffer zones, which he said would provide "security separation" between Israelis and Palestinians. He did not provide details about how the zones would work.

An adviser to Sharon, Dore Gold, earlier yesterday reiterated Israeli concerns about acts of violence directed at Israeli citizens.

"Palestinian forces are continuing their pattern of escalation against Israeli military sites, but also against Israeli civilians. For every one of these attacks that we know about, there are dozens of attacks that have been intercepted. The Israeli army will do what is necessary to defend the people of Israel."

But Palestinian and Arab diplomats at the United Nations say Israel's use of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and bulldozers against Palestinian settlements amounts to state-sponsored terrorism.

The Palestinian observer at the United Nations, Marwan Jilani, told reporters after Annan's address that his leadership agrees with the three key issues outlined by the UN secretary-general -- security, occupation, and economic revival.

Jilani said it is the obligation of the Security Council to take action given the escalation in hostilities.

"It is the responsibility of the Security Council to act, and we will do our best to get the Security Council involved and to get the Security Council to adopt a decision by the end of the debate next week."

Wire service reports say a draft resolution circulated late yesterday calls for an immediate end to the violence, a return to negotiations and the establishment of an international monitoring team. Israel opposes such a monitoring group, and U.S. officials have indicated they would not support the draft resolution.