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05 March 2024

UN chief to visit Lebanon, UAE for Mideast talks

By Reuters

UN chief Ban Ki-moon travels to Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates this month, where he will discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and other issues related to the Middle East, Ban told reporters on Friday.

During his three-day visit to Lebanon next week, the UN secretary-general plans to meet with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and commanders of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, UN officials said.

Among the issues Ban said would be on his agenda was the meeting on Monday in Amman between Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators, their second round of face-to-face talks in the stalled peace talk between the two sides.

"I'm very much encouraged by this meeting between ... Palestinians and Israelis in Jordan," he told reporters.

Ban may later visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour said. He told reporters there was an "agreement in principle" that the U.N. chief would visit Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is based, at the end of January.

Ban did not say whether Syria would be on his agenda in Lebanon and the UAE, though one UN official said it would be a key topic of discussion. Ban said he condemned "the terrorist bombing in which many people were killed and injured today in the Syrian capital."

He added that he was "gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Syria, where thousands have lost their lives since March last and people continue to be killed each day."

Earlier this week Ban discussed with Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani an Arab League request for UN help to train observers in Syria, where a 10-month government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters has killed at least 5,000 people, according to UN figures.

Syrian activists have said the Arab League teams did not have enough access and were escorted by Syrian authorities, who were manipulating them and hiding prisoners in military facilities.

After meeting Ban, Sheikh Hamad acknowledged that the Arab League monitors had made "mistakes."

The UN Security Council plans to discuss an Arab League progress report on its monitoring mission in Syria on Tuesday. European and US officials have urged the council to take up the issue of Syria again.

In October, Russia and China vetoed a European-drafted resolution that would have condemned Syria and threatened it with possible sanctions. Russia recently presented its own draft resolution on Syria but has made no moves to revise it in a way that would make it acceptable to US and European delegations.