The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has painted a bleak picture of the situation in the Palestinian-controlled territories. Speaking in Jerusalem at the start of the second leg of his Middle Eastern tour, Deiss said he was struck by a sense of hopelessness among the Palestinian population.
"The situation in the Palestinian areas is extremely difficult and precarious," Deiss said on Sunday. He said the lack of hope, coupled with the economic problems, meant there was a growing risk of instability.
Deiss also expressed concern over restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians because of the Israeli policy of sealing off West Bank towns to prevent the spread of violence. He said the economy suffered because people were not able to travel to work.
Earlier on Sunday, the foreign minister visited a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Deiss said he was there to remind himself of the fact that some of these people had spent more than 50 years in camps.
Soon after arriving in Jerusalem - where he is to spend three days - Deiss paid a courtesy call on President Moshe Katsev and held discussions on the peace process and the situation in the Palestinian territories. Deiss said he had reminded Katsev that while Israeli's security was important to Switzerland, it also supported the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
On Monday, Deiss is scheduled to continue his official duties by holding talks with the new Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the foreign minister, Shimon Peres. Although the agenda for the meetings is not known, Deiss is expected to raise the issue of respect for humanitarian law.
swissinfo with agencies