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Switzerland forced to climb down over Jerusalem office

Israel and Switzerland have apparently failed to resolve the dispute over Swiss representation in east Jerusalem


The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, says Switzerland will attempt to end a diplomatic dispute with Israel over the presence in Jerusalem of a Swiss coordination office with the Palestinians. He made the statement after Israel told Switzerland to remove the office.

Deiss held talks with the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, on Monday, and said "only one sentence" had been spoken about the office during the meeting.

However, after the talks, Sharon's office issued a statement describing the bureau's presence in east Jerusalem as "contrary to the Oslo peace accords" and a "problem".

Deiss attempted to defuse the issue on Tuesday, saying he felt the Israelis were making no demands.

However, correspondents say Sharon has made it clear he wants the office removed.

Switzerland has two offices - one in Jericho and one in Jerusalem. All other foreign representations are based in the Palestinian territories.

Deiss said he had made it clear that the office in Jerusalem was not a political statement by Switzerland on the status of Jerusalem.

Deiss held talks with Sharon and the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, on the final day of his five-day trip to the region.

During his meeting with Sharon, Deiss called on Israel to ensure respect for international treaties governing human rights. He also asked Sharon to allow aid organisations working in the Palestinian territories to carry out their work without interference.

Deiss said Sharon had made it clear that Israel's security was his top priority, and that he would do "everything in his power" to guarantee the safety of Israelis. He added that Sharon had said that he had no plans to build new Israeli settlements in the disputed territories.

The Swiss foreign minister's talks with Peres focused on the deadlocked Middle East peace process. Peres said that both Israel and the Palestinians needed to work together to move forward.

Deiss said that Switzerland, as a repository of the Geneva conventions, was ready to play an active role in helping to promote peace.

He added that Switzerland was hoping to proceed with an international conference aimed at getting both sides to implement the fourth Geneva convention, which governs the protection of civilians in times of conflict. Israel and the United States have so far opposed such a meeting.

swissinfo with agencies


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