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Fact-finding team heads to the West Bank

Palestinians burning tyres in Gaza City this week in protest at deadly attacks by Israeli forces

(Keystone)

A delegation of Swiss parliamentarians, academics and writers began a week-long visit to the occupied territories on Saturday.

The fact-finding trip was organised by the Palestinian Authority's representative in Switzerland, and includes a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The 12-strong delegation will divide their time between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where they hope to hear from ordinary people about life under the Israeli occupation.

“The idea is that they will see with their own eyes the realities on the ground and the violation of human rights and international humanitarian law,” Anis Al-Qaq, the authority’s representative in Bern, told swissinfo.

“It is very important for us that the lawmakers in Switzerland have an opportunity to discuss different topics and issues concerning the Palestinians and the peace process.”

Al-Qaq said Switzerland was playing an important role in trying to end the Middle East conflict, particularly through the Geneva Accord – an unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative launched last December.

Four members of parliament are taking part in the trip: one each from the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, and two from the Greens.

The whole picture

Green parliamentarian Daniel Vischer, who is among the delegates, said it was “very important” that they came back with an accurate picture of life in the occupied territories.

“I have the impression that [in Switzerland] we are not adequately informed, and that we are too one-sided,” Vischer told swissinfo. “The Swiss media do not report enough on how hard life is in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

He said that the group had lined up a full programme of events, including talks with Arafat and Palestinian parliamentarians as well as with civic and human rights groups, and visits to cultural institutions.

They also plan to take a look at the new Israeli security wall and to talk to people affected by it.

To avoid accusations of bias, the delegation has scheduled a meeting with members of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.

Although the delegation has no official status, Vischer said its members would be happy to discuss Switzerland’s position on the Middle East conflict.

“We have no mandate to explain Switzerland’s policies but, of course, we would be prepared to outline the various positive Swiss initiatives in the area – including the Geneva Accord,” he commented.

swissinfo, Morven McLean and Mohamed Cherif

Key facts

There are 12 people in the delegation, including parliamentarians Daniel Vischer (Green), Geri Müller (Green), Bruno Frick (Christian Democrats) and Carlo Sommaruga (Social Democrats).
The visit has been organised by Anis al-Qaq, the Palestinian Authority’s representative in Switzerland.
They will meet members of the Israeli Knesset, the Palestinian assembly, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

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