International force should be sent into West Bank - Annan

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The Independent Online

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said today that the situation in the Middle East is so serious that the sending of an international force into the occupied territories could not be delayed.

"My own view is that the situation is so dangerous and the humanitarian and human rights situation so appalling that I think the proposition that a force should be sent in there to create a secure environment, as well as provide space for diplomatic and political negotiations, can no longer be deferred," Mr Annan told reporters.

He did not specify what sort of force he thought should be sent to the Middle East.

The Palestinians have pushed several times for UN intervention, possibly peacekeepers or observers, to end 18 months of bloodshed in the Middle East. Israel, suspicious of a perceived UN bias, has said it would only agree to a limited American mission.

Earlier Mr Annan had told the UN Human Rights Commission that the United Nations could not stand back from what is happening in the Middle East.

"One of the lessons of the history of the United Nations is that it cannot afford to be neutral in the face of great moral challenges. We are faced with such a moral challenge today," he said.

"Wanton disregard for human rights and humanitarian law is something we cannot accept. We must let those responsible know that they face the verdict of history."

Asked whether he thought he personally should become involved in mediation between Israelis and Palestinians, he said there should not be too many negotiators working at once.

"There is a mediator. Mr. Powell (U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell) is there at the moment. I am in contact with him and we support his efforts," he said.

The 53–nation Human Rights Commission will vote later today on an Arab–sponsored resolution that accuses Israel of "gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

It lists breaches including a policy of assassinations, collective punishment, shelling of Palestinian districts, incursions into towns and refugee camps and the killing of men, women and children.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, also is waiting for Israeli permission to lead a mission to the area to look into the human rights situation.

So far her mission, which also includes former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and top South African businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, has received no reply from the Israeli government.