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Swiss push for humanitarian plan in Middle East

Calmy-Rey concluded that her Middle East visit had been worthwhile Keystone

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey says Switzerland can contribute to achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking after her return from a visit to the Middle East, she said both sides had welcomed Swiss proposals aimed at improving the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Switzerland’s humanitarian plan would take effect once Israel begins its withdrawal from the territory, scheduled for this summer.

Calmy-Rey was addressing a news conference in Bern a day after she completed a week-long fact-finding trip to the Middle East. The foreign minister spent three days in the Palestinian territories and three days in Israel.

The visit attracted little media attention worldwide, since it coincided with the signing of a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in Egypt on Tuesday.

But Calmy-Rey said that for her the trip had been worthwhile. “It was time to go and see what was happening,” she said.

Below poverty line

The foreign minister said 900,000 of the 1.4 million inhabitants in the Gaza Strip were living below the poverty line. Unless Israel’s pullout led to an improvement in the lives of the people of Gaza, they would lose faith in the peace process.

A Swiss expert group would draw up a number of proposals to ensure that the people had continuing access to food, medication, schools and hospitals during the Israeli withdrawal, she said.

These proposals would then be passed on to the Israelis and Palestinians.

In 2004 Switzerland was mandated by the United Nations with compiling a report on the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories.

Calmy-Rey said it had been important to visit the region, although the visit had involved long and difficult discussions.

Countering criticism of the visit, she said there had been a false expectation in Switzerland of what it would achieve. Peace could not be achieved simply by waving a Swiss flag, she said.

swissinfo with agencies

During her Middle East trip, Micheline Calmy-Rey met the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

She was also received by the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.

On the Israeli side, she had talks with the deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres.

A meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was not possible.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR