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Civil society in Middle East peace 'indispensable'

Annan says role of civil society in Middle East peace efforts 'indispensable'

Once again appealing to Israel and the Palestinians to break the cycle of violence and counter-violence, United Nations secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on non-government organizations (NGOs) and grassroots groups to provide their "indispensable" support for reaching peace in the Middle East.

"If the vision of the Road Map is to be achieved, civil society must play its part," Mr. Annan said in a message to a meeting organized by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in New York.

The Road Map is the peace plan drawn up by the UN, United States, European Union and Russian Federation calling for Israel and the Palestinians to take a series of parallel and reciprocal steps culminating in the achievement of two states living side by side in peace by 2005.

"Your support is indispensable if that vision is to be achieved," Mr. Annan said in the message, delivered by Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, to the meeting, the UN International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People.

"And it must be achieved, if the Palestinian people are, at last, to live a normal and secure life, in a land unencumbered by military occupation, strife and unbearable living conditions, while Israelis, at last, live in peace and security within their own borders, free from fear," he added.

"We must not allow the renewed cycle of deadly violence to divert us from it. The whole international community must strengthen its efforts to help both parties stay the course," he declared.

He noted the sharp increase in violence in the last month "with repeated incursions into Palestinian cities, targeted assassinations and other retaliatory measures, as well as deadly suicide bombings against Israelis. Palestinian and Israeli civilians continue to be killed in indefensible acts of violence," he added.

"I have called on the parties to exercise utmost restraint - to break the cycle of violence and counter-violence. I repeat that call today. And I urge both sides to deepen their commitment to security cooperation so as to allow the political process to move forward."

Mr. Annan said Israeli settlement expansion, bypass roads and the construction of the barrier in the West Bank separating Palestinians from their farms and from other Palestinian communities, remained serious impediments to the Road Map.

"For its part, the Palestinian Authority must act decisively to halt terrorist attacks," he added. "A solution will not be achieved through terrorism. Civil society, particularly Palestinian civil society, must speak loudly and clearly against terrorism, which is not only unjustifiable, but harmful to the Palestinian cause."

Stressing that the importance of civil society organizations individually and in partnership with the UN in helping efforts for peace and providing much-needed humanitarian assistance, Mr. Annan said. "Of particular importance are joint grassroots initiatives between Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, as well as between Jewish and Arab groups in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

"These initiatives enable ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to build bridges of trust and understanding, laying the groundwork for mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and cooperation."

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