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Senior UN Official Urges Halt to Israeli Security Barrier - 2003-10-21

A senior United Nations official has urged Israel to stop construction of a security barrier that juts into the West Bank. The official called on both sides to step back from what he called a "low point" in the Middle East.

U.N. Undersecretary General Kieran Prendergast said there has been a backward movement in the Middle East, away from a settlement, and away from the negotiating table. In his monthly briefing to the Security Council, Mr. Prendergast said recent actions by both Israelis and Palestinians have weakened moderates on both sides and encouraged extremists. "Suicide bombings, rejectionist language, extrajudicial killings, walls that extend deep into the occupied Palestinian territory, destruction of homes, expropriations and continued settlement activity lead both Israelis and Palestinians to feelings of hopelessness, despair, hatred, rage and revenge," he said.

Mr. Prendergast called on both sides to look for confidence building measures. He drew special attention to construction of the barrier around East Jerusalem, which he said is deeply worrying to the international community. "The government of Israel must reverse its policy of settlement and expansion and implement a settlement freeze. In addition, it must halt construction of the security wall that it is building on Palestinian land and remove those sections already constructed," he said.

Undersecretary General Prendergast called on both sides to exercise restraint to avoid further escalation. He complimented Syria and Lebanon for turning to the Security Council this month rather than choosing military retaliation in response to Israeli air strikes.

His comments came on a day when the U.N. General Assembly is considering a resolution condemning Israel's security barrier. The resolution is similar to one vetoed by the United States in the Security Council last week.