UN chief meeting Israeli, Palestinian leaders in bid to end violence


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was meeting Palestinian and Israeli leaders on Tuesday in a surprise visit to the region aimed at ending more than two weeks of the worst street violence in years.

Ban first met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, as two Palestinians and one Israeli died in three violent incidents.

A Palestinian was shot dead after trying to stab an Israeli soldier near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

A second Palestinian was shot dead south of Jerusalem, after he rammed a vehicle with Israeli license plates into Israelis at a junction, injuring two people. Police said it was a deliberate attack.

An Israeli motorist was fatally injured when his car was stoned by a Palestinian mob in the same area. He got out of his car when rocks were hurled at it, and was then run over by a Palestinian truck, whose driver said it was an accident.

“I am dismayed, as we all should be, when I see young people, children, picking up weapons and seeking to kill,” Ban said in a video message to Palestinians and Israelis.

“To the youth of Palestine, I say: I understand your frustration. I know your hopes for peace have been dashed countless times. You are angry at the continued occupation and expansion of settlements,” he said.

“Many of you are disappointed in your leaders and in us, the international community, because of our inability to end this conflict,” the UN chief continued as he called for non-violence.

Saying Israel’s concerns about security are genuine, he added: “I also understand the anger many Israelis feel. When children are afraid to go to school, when anyone on the street is a potential victim, security is rightly your immediate priority.

“But walls, checkpoints, harsh responses by the security forces and house demolitions cannot sustain the peace and safety that you need and must have.”

Forty-seven Palestinians and nine Israelis have been killed this month in violence sparked partly by Palestinian concerns that Israel is trying to change the rules for access to a Jerusalem site holy to both Jews and Muslims.

The violence erupted early this month as Jews visited the site, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. It is the site of the destroyed biblical Jewish temple and today houses al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

Under a decades-old agreement, Jews may visit but not pray on the mount. Instead, they may pray at an adjacent ancient retaining wall, known as the Wailing Wall. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied planning any change to the status quo.

Since October 3, Palestinians have launched about 30 knife attacks against Israelis, spreading fear and raising tensions in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

Israeli soldiers and policemen have also clashed almost daily with Palestinians throwing stones and petrol bombs in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

After his meeting with Rivlin, Ban is to hold talks with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to discuss the violence during talks with Netanyahu in Germany this week.

Most attacks against Israelis have been carried out by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, who have Israeli residency permits, which allow them free travel in Israel. Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip need permits to enter Israel.

Israel has begun blocking entrances to Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, seeking to impede Palestinian access to predominantly Jewish areas of the city.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its eternal capital. Abbas said Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Meanwhile, Israel overnight arrested Hassan Yousef, a top leader of Islamist group Hamas, at his home near Ramallah.

The Israeli military said he was arrested for incitement to violence. Observers said the arrest was mainly a signal that Israel was acting against calls by Muslim leaders for deadly attacks to “defend” the disputed holy site.

Hamas runs the Gaza Strip, where several Palestinians have been killed in border clashes with Israeli soldiers this month.