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UN envoy 'regrets' Israeli ban on foreign ministers

Aug. 5, 2012 9:19 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 7, 2012 9:37 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The UN Middle East envoy on Sunday urged Israel to reconsider its decision to bar four foreign ministers and ambassadors from attending a conference in Ramallah.

"I regret the decision by the Government of Israel to bar the Foreign Ministers of Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia and Malaysia access to the West Bank to attend the extra-ordinary meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement’s Committee on Palestine," Robert Serry said in a statement.

"Denying the Palestinian Authority the ability to engage with members of the International Community in Area A, is yet another step that contradicts the credibility of the Oslo arrangements, which affirm the Palestinian right of self-government," Serry said.

Israel denied entry to the envoys because their countries do not have diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Reuters.

"I call upon the Government of Israel to reconsider its decision," Serry said.

The two-day conference of high-level representatives from the Non-Aligned Movement was scrapped due to Israel's refusal to admit four delegations.

The Non-Aligned Movement is a group of states that aims to represent the interests of the developing world. They were due to sign a declaration backing the Palestinians ahead of their fresh campaign to win recognition as a state at the United Nations next month.

The exclusion of the envoys from the Israeli-occupied West Bank starkly underlined the limits of Palestinian autonomy.

Palestinian officials said the other conference guests, including the foreign ministers of Egypt and Zimbabwe, had waited in neighboring Jordan for clearance to travel.

Israeli clearance was granted but in the end they declined to attend, in solidarity with those prevented from taking part.

"The goal of this decision, which was issued at the highest political echelons in Israel, is to thwart the efforts of the Palestinian leadership to achieve more successes for the benefit of Palestinians and its efforts to end the occupation," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told reporters.

Israel controls access to the West Bank, which can be reached via the main checkpoint outside Jerusalem on the road coming up from Ben Gurion International Airport, or at the Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River, on the road from Amman.

'Nothing constructive'

Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, said Israel "exploits its position as an occupying power to prevent Palestine from communication with the countries of the world and to isolate the Palestinian people and its institutions".

She called the Israeli decision "a blatant and crude exercise of power and a form of political siege".

The decision to exclude the envoys came a day after the Palestinian Authority announced it would resume its bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations, a campaign strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.

The Non-Aligned Movement, founded during the Cold War, has more than 100 member countries who do not consider themselves formally aligned with any big power bloc.

Envoys belonging to the organization's Palestine Commission were due to convene the meeting in the West Bank on Sunday, in advance of an annual meeting of the whole movement in Iran at the end of the month.

"Nothing constructive, to say the very least, has ever come out of this committee in the past, and now that it is going to meet in Iran under the chairmanship of Tehran, expectations could not be lower," Palmor said. Israel regards Iran as its number one enemy.

Palestinians are listed as a UN observer "entity" with no voting rights. They will ask to be made a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 27, foreign minister al-Malki said on Saturday. Once that was achieved, he said, the Palestinians would pursue full UN membership.

Non-member observer status, akin to the Vatican's, would be an indirect recognition of their claims on statehood in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. It would allow them to join a number of UN agencies, and the International Criminal Court.

Israel opposes the move as hostile, saying they is no substitute for direct negotiation in solving the Middle East conflict.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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