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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 00:49 GMT 01:49 UK
Annan heads to Middle East
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Annan is about to launch a high-profile peace effort
By Frank Gardner in Cairo

The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is embarking on a six-day tour of the Middle East, starting on Tuesday in Egypt.

A press statement issued by his spokesman said the visit was part of Mr Annan's ongoing efforts to find a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

He is also due to visit Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Mr Annan's tour has been called a window of opportunity by some, a last ditch effort to avert disaster by others.

'Just peace'

The visit to the Middle East is the latest and most high-profile bid to solve the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians.

Violence in the Ramallah in the West Bank
Annan is likely to hear complaints over the role of the Israeli army from Arab leaders
Mr Annan's spokesman said the visit was part of his efforts to promote a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement based on relevant UN resolutions.

Over the next week he is going to be listening to both sides, Arab and Israeli.

He will also be pushing the need to implement the Mitchell commission's proposals on ending the violence and getting back to peace talks.

Pressure from both sides

Mr Annan's trip begins in Cairo, where he will meet the Egyptian president and foreign minister.

An indication of what they will be telling him was given on Monday by the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher.

He was quoted as saying the current international involvement in the region showed the world understood the danger of what he called an Israeli policy based on repression.

Similar messages will likely be voiced in other Arab cities throughout Mr Annan's trip.

He is due to meet Syria's President Bashar, Jordan's King Abdullah, Lebanese leaders and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

All will be urging him to persuade Israel to stop building Jewish settlements on Arab land.

But the Israelis too will have their demands and Kofi Annan's proven skills as a diplomat will be tested to the limit as he tries to held solve this region's interminable conflict.

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