Palestinian leader praises Swiss solidarity
The new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has thanked Switzerland for its “constant support” for those living in the occupied territories.
His comments came after talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is on a week-long visit to the Middle East.
Speaking at a press conference, Abbas said the pair had discussed the ongoing peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
The Palestinian president is due to meet the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, for talks in Egypt next week.
Abbas personally thanked the Swiss foreign minister for Switzerland’s support in assisting the democratic process in the Palestinian territories.
Bern sent a dozen experts to help the Palestinian Authority during last month’s presidential elections.
The Palestinian leader said discussions had also covered the Geneva Conventions, of which Switzerland is the depository state, and the application of human rights in the region.
For her part, Calmy-Rey said she hoped the Israelis and the Palestinians would refer to the Geneva Accord, a Swiss-backed unofficial peace plan, during next week’s summit.
Earlier on Thursday the Swiss foreign minister discussed the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei.
“The Swiss government emphasised the need to ensure that humanitarian aspects are not ignored,” she told reporters after the meeting.
“Mr Qurei gave me a detailed account of the current situation… and called for an end to the construction of the [Israeli] security barrier and the building of homes in Jewish settlements.”
Calmy-Rey said she had seen the barrier during her journey from Jerusalem to Ramallah and this had brought home to her “its implications on the daily lives of the Palestinian population”.
During her meeting with Qurei, she underlined that Switzerland was giving logistical and financial support to the Geneva Accord and “would continue to do so.”
The Swiss foreign minister also held talks with the Palestinian planning minister, Ghassan Khatib, to examine joint development projects.
“The Palestinians thanked Switzerland for its support and cooperation,” she said.
During a tour of Ramallah, Calmy-Rey laid flowers at the tomb of the former Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who died last year.
She completed her visit with a stop at a training centre for Palestinian prisoners that has received SFr2 million ($1.66 million) from the Swiss government.
On Sunday Calmy-Rey begins a three-day trip to Israel, which is due to include meetings with the country’s president, Moshe Katsav and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.
Her visit to the occupied territories came as the Israeli cabinet said it would release 900 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill ahead of next week’s Middle East summit.
Ministers also agreed to pull troops out of five West Bank towns, including Jericho and Ramallah, over the next few weeks.
Palestinians and Israelis both said on Thursday that they expect the summit to produce a truce ending more than four years of violence.
A joint declaration of a cessation of this violence is one of the first requirements in the internationally backed “road map” peace plan, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state this year.
swissinfo with agencies
The Swiss-backed Geneva Accord was formally launched in December 2003.
The initiative was brokered during two years of secret talks and covers many divisive issues between Palestinians and Israelis.
The accord outlines a plan for the division of Jerusalem and the creation of a Palestinian state.
To date Switzerland has contributed SFr3.5 million, with a further SFr2 million promised for 2005.
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