Antonio Guterres will make his first visit as the UN secretary-general to Israel and the Palestinian territories later this month for a firsthand look at a conflict that has been on the front burner of the United Nations for 70 years. The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said yesterday that the trip "comes at a critical time in which there are attacks against the two-state solution," which would see an independent Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel in peace. The secretary-general "is adamant in emphasizing that there is no Plan B to the two-state solution," Mansour told The Associated Press. "So to emphasize the importance of the two-state solution, and abiding by it and respecting the global consensus around it, is something that I think the Israeli leadership needs to listen to." Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon said the trip "will provide an excellent opportunity for him to see firsthand both the challenges and the opportunities that we face in our region, including Hezbollah's activities in Lebanon in violations of Security Council resolutions." Guterres' first stop will be Israel on Aug. 28 followed by a visit to Palestinian leaders including President Mahmoud Abbas on Aug. 29 in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mansour said. The secretary-general will then travel to Gaza on Aug. 30 where he is expected to visit some projects of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. Danon first mentioned the trip last month.
It has not been officially announced by the UN Israeli-Palestinian tensions escalated recently over the holiest site in Jerusalem when Israel installed metal detectors after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli policemen there in mid-July. Muslims protested and Israel removed the devices after intervention from the United States, Jordan and others. Israel and the United States, the country's closest ally, have sharply accused the United Nations of anti-Israel bias. "We welcome the secretary-general's statements speaking out against anti-Semitism and in favor of treating Israel as a fully equal UN member-state," Danon said Tuesday in a statement to AP. "During his meetings with the prime minister, president and minister of defense, the secretary-general will also hear about the importance Israel places on being treated fairly at the United Nations." Mansour said Guterres must "push as much as he can" to stop Israeli settlement activities, which are illegal under international law and are on land Palestinians want for their state. He said the secretary-general also needs to press Israel to lift its "illegal blockade" in Gaza.
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