Abbas ends European tour in Bern

Mahmoud Abbas (left) met Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter to boost his bid for observer state status at the UN Keystone

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has cut short his European tour and has flown home as the situation in Gaza deteriorates, shortly after completing talks with the Swiss authorities.

This content was published on November 15, 2012 - 19:35 and agencies

"We have a very grave situation in Gaza, we have situation deteriorating on the hour every hour and President Abbas now is in touch with His Excellency President Mursi of Egypt, Dr. Nabil Elaraby of the Arab League, Ban Ki-moon ... and others in Europe and the United States, hoping to begin a process of de-escalation of the conflict,"  senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said after Abbas met Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter in the capital Bern.

"Many subjects were discussed, including the escalation in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli aggression against Gaza, and for this (reason) President Abbas decided to cut short his visit to Europe," Erekat told reporters.

The two men talked notably about the application the Palestinians plan to file on November 29 at the United Nations to be raised to the status of observer state. Abbas’ European tour was aimed at gathering support for the application.

Burkhalter told Abbas that Switzerland’s position would be “based on the content of the final text of the resolution, in particular its conformity with international law.”

The foreign minister said after the meeting that the government would determine its position in the coming days, adding that the resolution contained a number of constructive and pragmatic elements.

Burkhalter doesn’t believe cabinet will reject the resolution, but will either come out in favour of it or abstain from voting at the UN. But he added that considerations whether any change to the Palestinians’ UN status would affect the Middle East peace process would be taken into account before any decision was reached.

Extremely concerned

The foreign minister also commented on the situation in the Gaza Strip, saying he was extremely concerned. He added that it was a fundamental requirement that every precaution possible be taken to ensure the population was not harmed by the fighting in one of the world’s most densely inhabited zones.

Abbas also met the Swiss president, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who reiterated Switzerland’s preference for a two-state solution that would “provide a peaceful and stable solution for the future of Israel and the Palestinians.”

Abbas, who had been scheduled to go to France, lost control of Gaza to Hamas militants in 2007 and now governs only the West Bank. He still though claims to be president of all Palestinians.

Israel launched earlier this week its campaign of airstrikes and shelling in Gaza, which has since killed 15 Palestinians and wounded more than 100, in retaliation for rocket attacks by Gaza militants against Israel.

On Thursday, the battle escalated. Palestinian militants barraged Israel with nearly 150 rockets on Thursday, killing three people and striking the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv. Israel continued its bombardment, saying it has hit more than 230 targets in Gaza.

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