The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has called on the Israelis and Palestinians to respect human rights. On the second day of his visit to the Middle East, Deiss said he had been struck by how disheartened the Palestinians he had spoken to appeared with the peace process.
"Switzerland is concerned that both sides should observe human rights," Deiss said in Ramallah, where he met leading officials of the Palestinian Authority. He accused the Israelis of numerous human rights abuses, including the sealing off of Palestinian areas and the withholding of taxes.
His comments came the day after a meeting between Deiss and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, in which the foreign minister said Switzerland condemned all forms of violence and terrorism.
But Deiss assured Arafat of Switzerland's continuing support for the Palestinian people. "We told Arafat we will continue, and even extend, our aid programme," Deiss said.
Deiss also informed Arafat about the status on discussions on holding a conference to discuss adherence to the fourth Geneva convention, which guarantees protection for civilians caught up in armed conflicts.
Deiss said the results of discussions so far were "encouraging", but he thought two more months of consultations would be necessary to see if a consensus emerged. "A large number of countries are in favour of holding such a conference," Deiss said. "But some, including Israel and the United States are opposed."
In Ramallah on Saturday, Deiss held talks with members of the Palestinian Authority and received an invitation for a Swiss parliamentary delegation to visit. He said the meeting had given him insights into how difficult it was for the Authority to operate under present circumstances.
Later Deiss visited a project in Ramallah, jointly financed by Switzerland and the European Union, for the rehabilitation of former prisoners.
On Sunday, he will begin an official visit to Israel, where he is scheduled to meet the new prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the foreign minister, Shimon Peres.
swissinfo with agencies