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Deiss urges Israel to respect human rights

Joseph Deiss (left) met his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, in Jerusalem

(Keystone)

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has urged the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to respect human rights in his dealings with the Palestinians. Deiss also held talks with his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, and both men agreed that the peace process had to move forward.

Deiss held talks with Sharon and Peres on the final day of a his trip to the region, during which he visited Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

During his meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Deiss urged Sharon to ensure that Israel respected international treaties governing human rights. He also asked Sharon to allow aid organisations working in the Palestinian territories to carry out their work without interference.

Deiss said Sharon had made it clear that Israel's security was his top priority, and that he would do "everything in his power" to guarantee the safety of Israelis. He added that Sharon had said that he had no plans to build new Israeli settlements in the disputed territories.

The Swiss foreign minister's talks with Peres focused on the deadlocked Middle East peace process. Peres said that both Israel and the Palestinians needed to work together to move forward.

Deiss said that Switzerland, as a repository of the Geneva conventions, was ready to play an active role in helping to promote peace.

Deiss added that Switzerland was hoping to proceed with an international conference aimed at getting both sides to implement the fourth Geneva convention, which governs the protection of civilians in times of conflict. Israel and the United States have so far been opposed to such a meeting.

Deiss, who is on a five-day trip to the region, spent much of the weekend visiting the Palestinian territories, including a refugee camp in Bethlehem.

He said on Sunday that "The situation in the Palestinian areas is extremely difficult and precarious", and that Israel's blockade of West Bank towns was causing further instability.

In a meeting with the Israeli president, Moshe Katsev, Deiss said that while Switzerland understood Israel's concerns about security, it also supported the Palestinians' rights to self-determination.

swissinfo with agencies


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