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UN chief to make first visit to Israel, Palestinian territories

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will travel to Palestine and Israel on August 28. (AFP)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres will pay his first visit since taking the UN helm to Israel and the Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip, at the end of the month.

The UN chief will hold talks with Israeli leaders, travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and to the Gaza Strip, where the United Nations runs a major Palestinian aid program, during the three-day visit beginning August 28.

Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, described the upcoming visit as “very important,” indicating that it signaled a stronger UN focus on the plight of Palestinians.

“The UN has been involved since its inception with the question of Palestine and will remain involved until the question is resolved in all its aspects on the basis of international law,” he told AFP by email. The visit comes as diplomatic efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks appear deadlocked.

Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon said the visit will allow Guterres to “build a relationship” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will also hold meetings with the Israeli president and defense minister.

“We are very happy about this visit,” Danon told AFP. “It’s a great opportunity for the secretary general to experience Israel, to meet the leaders of Israel and to understand the challenges that Israel faces day-in and day-out.”

Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, “is experienced. He has been to Israel in the past. He knows the complexity of the issues. He is not someone who comes to our region and has no clue about what is happening,” said Danon.

The Israeli government will discuss strengthening the mission of the UN interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), said Danon, following a series of skirmishes along the UN-monitored demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon.

Relations between the United Nations and Israel have been tense over the expansion of Jewish settlements, which the world body has condemned as illegal.

Since taking over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1, Guterres has been cautious in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, partly in response to US accusations that the United Nations was biased against Israel.

In March, the UN chief demanded that a report by a UN body be withdrawn after it accused Israel of imposing an apartheid system on the Palestinians. Guterres had initially distanced himself from the report, but the United States insisted that it be withdrawn altogether.


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