Ramallah: UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Saturday got a closer look at what has emerged as a main obstacle to restarting Middle East peace talks — Israeli settlements on Palestinian-claimed land.
Ban was escorted to a West Bank observation point by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
From the hill on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, the UN secretary-general was able to see the sprawling Israeli West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev, home to 11,000 Israelis who live in rows of red-roofed houses. The panorama also included Jewish neighbourhoods in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem, the Israeli-annexed sector the Palestinians claim as a future capital.
From his vantage point, Ban saw Israel`s separation barrier — part fence and part cement slabs — snaking through the landscape, as well as a walled Israeli prison camp for Palestinians arrested by Israeli troops.
The brief geography lesson came a day after the UN secretary-general, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other major Mideast mediators met in Moscow to try to find a way to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Earlier this month, Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to indirect talks, with US envoy George Mitchell to shuttle between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, the indirect talks were put on hold after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new houses for Jews in east Jerusalem.