The Swiss foreign ministry is holding exploratory talks for an international conference on the respect of humanitarian law in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian authorities.
The ministry confirmed it received a letter from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, urging Switzerland as a depository state of the Geneva Conventions to convene a meeting of the signatory states.
Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said that he explained the procedure to Abbas and that Switzerland had “responsibilities in the context of the Geneva Conventions”. He added that it was crucial to consult all parties in the conflict.
“I must say though it is very difficult,” he told Swiss public radio, RTS.
The Palestinians, who in April became the latest signatory to the convention, have accused Israel of violating the right of civilians to protection in armed conflicts during the recent crisis in the Gaza Strip and Israel.
However, the Israeli ambassador to Switzerland, Yigal Caspi, has dismissed the Palestinian request as political pressure, according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper.
Under the statutory terms, Switzerland has to carry out diplomatic consultations to see whether there is enough support for such a conference.
In 2009 Switzerland had to abandon an 18-month effort for an international human rights conference on the Middle East despite a request by the United Nations.
A previous attempt in 2001 during the second Palestinian intifada succeeded in convening a meeting. It adopted a resolution on the application of the Geneva Conventions in the Palestinian territories.
Meanwhile, 1,000 people took part in a peaceful demonstration in Zurich on Friday night organised by various Swiss-based pro-Palestinian organisations to protest against Israel's actions.
One group, the Islamist Central Council, has accused the Israeli army and air force of attacking civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. It also accuses western nations of colluding with Israel and supporting its controversial settlement policy in the occupied territories.
Before the demonstration, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland expressed concern about the demonstration and a number of anti-Semitic messages on social media platforms. The Zurich police are reportedly investigating these messages.
The federation’s secretary-general, Jonathan Kreutner, said he was shocked by the “hatred and threats against Jewish people”. He called for the application of anti-racism law against authors of anti-Semitic statements. Several inter-religious organisations called for calm and religious freedom.
Zurich police allowed the demonstration to take place near the Zurich city town hall, but stipulated that the participants would not be allowed to leave the agreed site.
By Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch