Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Middle East: Israel’s release of Palestinian political prisoners could boost peace prospects – Ban

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for urgently addressing the plight of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners detained by Israel, saying it is an important issue in the search for a just and lasting peace between the two sides.

When Mr. Ban visited the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel a year ago, he had expressed concerns about the Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli detention facilities, and publicly urged Israel to release prisoners as called for by the Palestinian Authority.

“Such a release would serve as a significant confidence-building measure,” he stated today in a message to the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine that opened in Vienna, adding the world body will continue to raise the issue with the Israeli leadership.

Nearly 100 representatives of Governments, parliaments, intergovernmental organizations, lawyers, civil society and UN agencies are taking part in the two-day meeting, whose theme is “The urgency of addressing the plight of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention facilities.”

In his message – which was delivered by Maxwell Gaylard, Deputy UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory – Mr. Ban said the UN continues to follow closely the well-being of those in detention, including some 200 minors and 200 individuals held in administrative detention without trial.

He also noted with concern that elected Palestinian representatives have been detained by Israel, and that even after their release, three from East Jerusalem are under threat of forcible transfer and are residing at the Red Cross premises, while another has been deported to Ramallah.

“The United Nations opposes measures of forcible transfer and remains engaged on this issue, which has broader implications for the human rights of Palestinian East Jerusalemites,” he stated.

The Secretary-General also reiterated the calls of the UN for humanitarian access to be granted to Israeli Staff Sergeant Gilat Shalit, who has been held captive by Palestinian militants for over four years, and for his release.

“Momentous changes are sweeping the region, and it is deeply frustrating that efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace remain at an impasse,” the Secretary-General said, adding that among the main obstacles are settlements, which are illegal and contrary to the Road Map peace plan that seeks to establish a two-State solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security within recognized borders.

“It remains Israel’s obligation to freeze settlement activity,” he said, calling on the international community to intensify efforts to help the parties overcome the current obstacles and achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.