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In Middle East, Annan urges restraint

In contacts with Middle East leaders, Annan urges restraint

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that he is in contact with key leaders in the Middle East, urging restraint and pressing for the release of an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped earlier this week.

Asked by reporters about a reported agreement among the Palestinians, Mr. Annan said he had spoken with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “President Abbas was quite positive, and I think indeed if they have come to an agreement, an agreement that will require them to work together, avoid the kind of development which was ebbing towards a civil war that we were all worried about, then of course we should all be very happy about it,” he said.

The Secretary-General said he and the Palestinian Authority President discussed “the situation on the ground, the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier, the need to release him and try and de-escalate” the atmosphere. Yesterday, Mr. Annan urged the release of the soldier, who was taken captive by Palestinian militants.

Mr. Annan also said he had spoken to President Bashar al Assad of Syria this morning, and hoped to speak to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tomorrow.

“I have urged restraint on all parties, and that is also one of the reasons why I will be talking to Prime Minister Olmert tomorrow morning,” Mr. Annan said. “When I spoke to President Assad we are all trying to find ways of helping defuse the situation, and I was talking to anyone who is likely to have influence on the situation to play a role and to use their influence to ensure that the prisoner was released and that we are able to defuse the situation.”

Mr. Annan noted that he had spoken to President Assad “because of the presence of the Hamas faction in Syria – the [Khaled] Mashal faction.”

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