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Middle East: Urgent steps to restore calm

Security Council calls for urgent steps to restore calm in Middle East

Expressing serious concern over the upsurge in violence in the West Bank and Gaza today, the United Nations Security Council called on the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to take urgent steps to restore calm.

In a statement to the press after a closed-door briefing by Ibrahim Gambari, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, the Council also called for the release those who have been kidnapped.

In his briefing, Mr. Gambari also expressed deep concern over the situation. “Israel’s violent incursion – as well as the Palestinian actions carried out in response – risk destabilizing even further the already tense situation in the Middle East,” he told the Council.

He said the violence occurred as news spread of Israeli forces attacking a prison compound in Jericho and taking into custody, among many other prisoners, Ahmed Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who had been accused of involvement in the 2001 murder of an Israeli minister.

The Israeli operation, which lasted about 10 hours, took place after the United States and United Kingdom withdrew monitors from the prison. They left today in response to a statement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas indicating that he would consider releasing Mr. Saadat under certain conditions.

In the ensuing protests, at least seven foreigners in the West Bank and Gaza were kidnapped by militants, though several were subsequently released.

One PFLP gunman was killed in a clash with Palestinian police trying to prevent the kidnappings, Mr. Gambari said. PFLP militants and other protesters set fire to the British Council, stormed the building used by the European Commission and attacked a British facility in Ramallah.

He said the UN has evacuated nearly all international staff from Gaza, restricting staff movement in the West Bank, and other international organizations have taken similar measures.

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