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Deiss embarks on Israeli leg of Middle East tour

Deiss chatted with children at a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem

(Keystone)

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is beginning an official visit to Israel on Sunday after concluding a tour of the Palestinian territories. During his three days in Israel, he's scheduled to meet the new prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the foreign minister, Shimon Peres.

Although the agenda for the talks is not known, Deiss is expected to raise the issue of respect for humanitarian law. During his time in the West Bank, the foreign minister spoke out against human rights abuses committed by Israel against the Palestinians.

In comments on Sunday, he deplored current economic conditions in the Palestinian territories. "The situation in the Palestinian areas is extremely difficult and precarious," Deiss said, with reference to unemployment levels and Israel's withholding of tax income.

But in earlier talks with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, he also condemned acts of violence and terrorism carried out against the Israelis.

"Switzerland is concerned that both sides should observe human rights," Deiss commented during a visit to Ramallah.

While in Israel, Deiss is also likely to raise the issue of a new conference to discuss adherence to the fourth Geneva convention, which guarantees protection for civilians caught up in armed conflicts.

In a briefing to Palestinian officials he said the results of discussions so far on holding the meeting were "encouraging", but consultations would probably need to continue for another two months at least. He said a large number of countries were in favour of the conference, but Israel and the United States were still opposed.

Before embarking on the Israeli leg of his tour, Deiss paid a visit on Sunday to a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Deiss said he was there to remind himself that some of these people had spent more than 50 years in camps.

swissinfo with agencies


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