Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has held talks with the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, on the first day of a week-long tour of the Middle East.This content was published on February 3, 2005 - 18:51
Her visit to the occupied territories came as Israel said it would release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners ahead of next week’s Middle East summit in Egypt.
The Swiss foreign minister met the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, later on Thursday.
During talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Calmy-Rey and Qurei discussed the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
“The Swiss government emphasised the need to ensure that humanitarian aspects are not ignored,” she told reporters after the meeting.
“Mr Qurei gave me a detailed account of the current situation… and called for an end to the construction of the [Israeli] security barrier and the building of homes in Jewish settlements.”
The Swiss foreign minister said she had seen the barrier during her journey from Jerusalem to Ramallah.
She added that this had brought home “its implications for the daily lives of the Palestinian population”.
Calmy-Rey said the Swiss government was concerned about the rights of the civilian population and the application of human rights in the region.
She underlined that Switzerland was giving logistical and financial support to the Geneva Accord, an unofficial peace plan for the Middle East, and “would continue to do so.”
The Swiss foreign minister also held talks with the Palestinian planning minister, Ghassan Khatib, to examine joint development projects.
“The Palestinians thanked Switzerland for its support and cooperation,” she said.
During a tour of Ramallah, Calmy-Rey laid flowers at the tomb of the former Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who died last year.
She completed her visit with a stop at a training centre for Palestinian prisoners that has received SFr2 million ($1.66 million) from the Swiss government.
On Sunday Calmy-Rey begins a three-day trip to Israel, which is due to include meetings with the country’s president, Moshe Katsav, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.
The Israeli cabinet announced on Thursday that it had decided to release 900 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill. It also agreed to pull its troops out of five West Bank towns, including Jericho and Ramallah, over the next few weeks.
These decisions are expected to improve the climate ahead of Tuesday’s Middle East summit in Egypt.
Palestinians and Israelis both said on Thursday that they expect the summit to produce a truce ending more than four years of violence.
A joint declaration of a cessation of this violence is one of the first requirements in the internationally backed “road map” peace plan, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state this year.
swissinfo with agencies
The Swiss-backed Geneva Accord was formally launched in December 2003.
The initiative was brokered during two years of secret talks and covers many divisive issues between Palestinians and Israelis.
The accord outlines a plan for the division of Jerusalem and the creation of a Palestinian state.
To date Switzerland has contributed SFr3.5 million, with a further SFr2 million promised for 2005.
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