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Calmy-Rey ends Israel visit as truce declared

Calmy-Rey in a tunnel under the Temple Mount with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch Keystone

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey wound up her six-day trip to the Middle East on Tuesday as a ceasefire was declared in the region.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, declared a truce following a summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Calmy-Rey ended her visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with trips to Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall and the town of Sderot.

She was greeted in Sderot by the town’s mayor, Elie Moyal, who showed her photographs of residents killed last year by Palestinian rocket fire.

The town, which has a population of 24,000, is located only 600 metres from the Palestinian village of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip.

The mayor reported that over the past four years 600 Kassam rockets had been fired at Sderot, a town that also suffers from serious unemployment because of its large immigrant Russian population.

Psychological damage

Moyal added that the rocket attacks were having a big psychological effect, particularly on local children.

Calmy-Rey expressed her sympathy to the town’s authorities. She told them she was saddened that Sderot had to face deadly attacks in addition to economic and social problems.

Earlier on Tuesday, Calmy-Rey visited the Wailing Wall, or Western Wall, in Jerusalem, which is considered by Jews as their most holy site.

Accompanied by the Rabbi of the Wailing Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, she followed the tradition of the faithful who pray there by introducing a slip of paper with her wishes into a crack in the wall.

Security barrier

The Swiss foreign minister also met the president of Israel’s Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, with talks centring on the controversial security barrier that Israel is constructing in the West Bank.

Those accompanying Calmy-Rey noted that Barak had used the term “wall” during their talks, although Israel officially refers to it as the “anti-terrorist barrier”.

Calmy-Rey also spoke to Barak about two other controversial issues: Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and Jewish settlements.

Before returning to Switzerland, Calmy-Rey is due to make a stopover in Cairo on Wednesday for talks with her Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

These are expected to include a briefing on the ceasefire declared by Palestinian and Israeli leaders, aimed at ending more than four years of bloodshed.

New chance

Although Palestinian militants said they were not bound by the truce, Abbas and Sharon hailed a new opportunity for the Middle East.

“The calm which will prevail in our lands, starting from today, is the beginning of a new era,” commented Abbas.

“We must all declare here today that violence will not prevail, violence will not be allowed to murder hope,” added Sharon.

“For the first time in a long time there is hope in our region for a better future for us and our grandchildren.”

Although no formal ceasefire was signed at the summit, it was widely considered a step towards negotiations on a United States-backed “road map”, which sets out a plan for a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

swissinfo with agencies

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has ended her six-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

On the final day on Tuesday, she visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the town of Sderot near the Gaza Strip and held talks with the head of the Israeli Supreme Court, Aharon Barak.

Calmy-Rey meets her Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, in Cairo on Wednesday before returning to Switzerland.

Their talks will include a briefing on the declaration of a ceasefire by Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on Tuesday.

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