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UN leader to visit Ramallah, Jerusalem: Diplomats

The United Nations is part of the international Quartet on the Middle East, along with the US, Russia and European Union.

New York: UN leader Ban Ki-moon will visit the Palestinian territories and Israel in the next month as tensions between the two grow over Israel`s settlement drive in the occupied territories.

Ban will hold talks at the headquarters of the leaders of the Middle East rivals for the second time in less than two years.

He will meet Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah at the end of January or early February, Palestinian UN ambassador envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters yesterday here. Diplomats confirmed that the UN secretary general will go to Jerusalem on the same trip.

The UN did not immediately comment. It does not normally confirm Ban`s travel plans until just before his departure. Ban was last in Jerusalem and Ramallah in March 2010.

This trip would come at a particularly sensitive time with the UN at the centre of international efforts to resume direct Israeli-Palestinian talks. Ban has also been outspoken in criticising Israel settlement construction.

The United Nations is part of the international Quartet on the Middle East, along with the US, Russia and European Union.

"It would be great for him (Ban) to come and visit Ramallah to see the situation on the ground, to see the danger of this continuous program of expanding these illegal settlements, particularly in and around East Jerusalem," Mansour told reporters.

Mansour said he had been "heavily involved" in arranging the visit.

The Palestinians withdrew from direct talks with Israel in September 2010 in protest at Israel`s refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement building which Mansour called "a cancer" which now threatens the possibility of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

The Palestinians made a high-profile bid for membership of the United Nations last September but that is now deadlocked, with the United States vowing to veto any UN Security Council recommendation of the application. The United States and Israel say that only direct talks can produce a permanent peace accord.


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