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Deiss ventures into Middle East hot spots

Joseph Deiss is expected to raise the issue of respect for humanitarian law during his discussions with Israel and the Palestinians

(Keystone)

The foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is in the Middle East for a five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. His trip is expected to focus on respect for international humanitarian law, as well as development aid.

Deiss is scheduled to meet the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, during his five-day tour of the region.

The visit comes at time when the peace process is blocked. Switzerland has in the past offered its good offices to advance the peace process, and has hosted summits, but it is not known if the issue will again be raised during Deiss's visit.

The Swiss foreign ministry has stressed that the visit is part of regular bilateral exchanges. The former Israeli foreign minister, David Levy, was in Switzerland last year.

Deiss is expected to raise the issue of respect for humanitarian law during his discussions with the Israelis and Palestinians.

Switzerland, as the repository of the Geneva conventions, has received a request from a number of Arab and non-aligned countries to call a new meeting to discuss adherence to the fourth Geneva convention, which guarantees protection for civilians caught up in armed conflicts.

Switzerland hosted a conference on the issue last October, but it was adjourned after only five minutes because the United States, Israel and other countries wanted to avoid embarrassing the former Israeli government at a time when the latest Palestinian uprising had got underway.

Analysts say the time may now be ripe for calling such a conference, despite the breakdown in the peace process.

Switzerland's development aid to the Palestinians, as well its support for Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organisations active in the human rights field, are also high on the agenda during the Deiss visit. The Palestinians have already received SFr105 million for development, humanitarian and educational projects.

Analysts say the issue of the Swiss coordination office with the Palestinian Authority in east Jerusalem may also be raised. The head of the office provoked Israeli anger in the wake of February's elections by publicly stating that Ariel Sharon would endanger the peace process if he became prime minister.

It is the second time in two years that Deiss is touring the region. He went to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon last year. Deiss also met Arafat at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

swissinfo


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