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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 23:20 GMT
Annan appeal brings mixed response
Kofi Annan addresses a meeting of the United Nations
Kofi Annan made an uncompromising speech
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By Greg Barrow
BBC United Nations correspondent

A powerful appeal by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan for Israel and the Palestinians to end their violence has brought a mixed response from diplomats at the UN.

The Palestinian representative, Nasser Al-Kidwa, broadly welcomed the speech.

Many of your friends stand ready to support you if you seize this opportunity

Kofi Annan
But, despite admitting the speech contributed to the peace effort, Israeli ambassador Yehuda Lancry played down Mr Annan's call for Israelis to end their illegal occupation of Palestinian areas - the first time the secretary general has used this formulation in a public forum like the Security Council.

Mr Annan was not pulling punches when he stepped up to deliver his latest speech on the Middle East.

The escalating violence, he said, was appalling - the worst he had seen in 10 years.

Mr Annan said that while he believed the Palestinians had the right to a viable state, they were undermining their cause through the use of suicide bombers.

If anything, his message to Israel was even stronger.

Call for leadership

"To the Israelis I say: You have the right to live in peace and security within secure internationally recognised borders.

"But you must end the illegal occupation. More urgently you must stop the bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary use of lethal force, the demolitions and the daily humiliation of ordinary Palestinians."

Mr Annan said he was grieving for Israel and Palestine and he called on the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to lead their people away from disaster.

Nasser Al-Kidwa
The Palestinians welcomed references to the occupied territories
"Today more than ever, you must recognise that security and political settlement are indivisible. One cannot exist without the other.

"Many of your friends stand ready to support you if you seize this opportunity.

Mr Annan encouraged both sides to work with the US Middle East envoy, Anthony Zinni, when he returns to the region later this week, and he praised a recent Saudi initiative as a clear and compelling vision for peace.

But his speech laid responsibility for ending the violence at the feet of those on the ground.

Differences of opinion

Palestinian representative Al-Kidwa said this was an important shift in tone.

"I think the secretary general using this term in such clear way is also indicative that the whole world is getting nervous, increasingly nervous about the situation," he said.

"The whole world wants to see an end to this occupation which remains the main reason behind the tragedy we are all faced with."

There are bound to be differences of opinion and objections to certain elements of Mr Annan's speech.

But its broad message - the need for both sides to return to negotiations - will not be lost on anyone in the region.

See also:

12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel in massive new offensive
25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Annan urges Middle East talks
08 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel sees hope in UN videos
26 Feb 02 | Middle East
Arafat backs new security talks
23 Nov 01 | Middle East
UN warns Israel over torture reports
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