UN chief says ‘ending occupation’ needed to halt violence

During meeting with PA President Abbas in West Bank, Ban Ki-moon urges sides to return to ‘meaningful negotiations’

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon (L) holds a press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on October 21, 2015 (AFP/ ABBAS MOMANI)
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon (L) holds a press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on October 21, 2015 (AFP/ ABBAS MOMANI)

RAMALLAH — UN chief Ban Ki-moon pleaded for an end to spiraling violence on Wednesday as he met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a bid to calm weeks of deadly unrest.

The UN secretary general’s meeting with Abbas came after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, when he called on both sides to end a “dangerous escalation” threatening a full-scale uprising.

Ban, at least publicly, offered no concrete proposals to end the unrest, but spoke of returning to “meaningful negotiations,” after more than a year of frozen peace efforts and seething frustration with Israel’s occupation.

“We will continue to support all efforts to create the conditions to make meaningful negotiations possible,” Ban told journalists after meeting Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“But ultimately it is for Palestinians and Israelis to choose peace. Our most urgent challenge is to stop the current wave of violence and avoid any further loss of life.”

Ban said that “the only way to end the violence is through real and visible progress toward a political solution, including an end of the occupation.”

“I have stressed to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders the urgent need to reaffirm through words and deeds that they are partners for peace,” he said.

Abbas called on Israel to strictly respect rules governing Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The holy site has been a flashpoint in the recurrent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters.

The current outbreak of violence was fueled by rumors that Israel was plotting to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and take over the Temple Mount, the holiest site to Jews and the third-holiest to Muslims.

Israel has adamantly denied the allegations, saying there are no plans to change the status quo between Muslim worshipers and Jewish visitors to the site, and has accused the Palestinians of incitement. Jews can currently visit the religious holy site but are not allowed to pray there.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Abbas of inciting violence by suggesting that Israel wants to change the status of the compound.

“The continued occupation and aggression against Christian and Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem, particularly against Al-Aqsa, opens the door to a religious conflict, which has unfortunately started,” Abbas told journalists. “We don’t want it and we are warning over its consequences.”

Netanyahu harshly criticized Abbas for “fanning the flames” of violence and rejected allegations that Israel has used excessive force, when he met Ban late Tuesday.

“I believe it is time to tell the truth about the causes of Palestinian terrorism,” he said. “It is not the settlements, it is not the peace process, it is the desire to destroy the State of Israel pure and simple.”

With international concern increasing, US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Netanyahu later this week in Germany as well as Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah at an unspecified location in the Middle East.

The unrest continued even during Ban’s visit.

On Wednesday afternoon, a female soldier was stabbed and critically wounded at a checkpoint north of Jerusalem. The attacker was shot and killed.

Earlier Wednesday, an Israeli policeman was lightly injured in an apparent car-ramming attack next to the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Jerusalem. The driver crashed into the checkpoint after ignoring police warnings to stop. Security forces opened fire on the vehicle as it approached the barrier, reports said.

The driver was not apprehended and managed to flee the scene to the nearby village of Silwad. Security forces were searching the area for the suspect.

Magen David Adom paramedics administered first-aid treatment to the injured policeman, who did not need to be taken to a hospital.

Also Wednesday morning, a Palestinian teenager was shot and wounded after approaching an Israeli settlement with a knife.

When meeting Netanyahu on Tuesday, Ban acknowledged the security challenges for Israel and the fears of residents facing a wave of gun, knife and car-ramming attacks.

He said he was “deeply troubled by statements from Palestinian militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad praising such heinous attacks.”

At the same time, he warned against overzealous security measures that could exacerbate tensions.

Ban will also visit families of both Israeli and Palestinian victims of the latest wave of violence. Later this week, he is expected to meet King Abdullah II of Jordan, who has previously acted as a mediator.

The escalation in violence started at the beginning of September on the Temple Mount and spread to terror attacks in Jerusalem and terror attacks and clashes in the West Bank. Eleven Israelis have been killed in attacks in the past month; some 40 Palestinians have been killed, almost half in the course of attacks on Israeli targets, and most of the rest in clashes in the West Bank and at the Gaza border.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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