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Switzerland to Call Geneva Convention Meeting - 2001-11-08


Switzerland says it will call a meeting of nations that have signed the Geneva conventions, four international treaties that cover the treatment of civilians, prisoners, and wounded people in wartime. The meeting is planned next month to discuss the situation in the Middle East. Israel says it will not participate.

Diplomats say they expect that Israel, a signatory to the Geneva conventions, will be sharply criticized for continued occupation of Palestinian territory. A number of treaty signers say Israel is breaking the conventions with its policy of building Jewish settlements on occupied lands and its continued economic blockade of Palestinian-inhabited areas.

Israel's deputy head of mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Tuvia Israeli, says the Jewish state does adhere to the Geneva conventions, but it will not take part in the December 5 meeting. "This is an initiative that has been launched over a year ago, and from the very beginning, we expressed our objection to it, and we have not changed our position since," he said. "Such a meeting is using humanitarian influence, that the international community has, in a politicized manner." The Swiss foreign ministry says it organizes conferences on the conventions if the majority of the 189 nations who have signed the treaties want a meeting.

Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman Muriel Berset-Cohen says Arab nations and other signers of the treaties have been pressing for a meeting on the Middle East since the start of the current Palestinian uprising, or intifada, 14 months ago.

This request was confirmed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. After that, Switzerland consulted formally all high contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention if they are in favor of such a conference or not. The vast majority of the state parties were in favor of it.

Ms. Berset-Cohen says the conference will affirm the need to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in conflict, and will call for international humanitarian law to be upheld.

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