Today in Ramallah, Dr Dimitrij Rupel, the Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs and current President of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, met Palestinian Government representatives. At the press conference after the meeting, Dr Rupel noted that the representatives of the Palestinian Government and he had agreed that the only way to settle the Middle East peace process is through negotiation. There is also consensus on this in the European Union, which wishes to contribute to the best of its ability to reviving the peace process which was started at the Annapolis conference at the end of the last year and recently slowed down due to an increase in tensions, added the Minister.
The President of the EU Council, accompanied on the visit by Mr Marc Otte, EU Special Representative for the Middle East peace process, was received by Mr Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mr Salam Fayad the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority and Mr Riyad al-Malki, the Foreign Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. At the press conference after the meeting with President Abbas, Dr Rupel mentioned that the Palestinian National Authority representatives had drawn his attention to certain issues which, in their opinion, needed to be solved urgently: the construction of Israeli settlements in the territories of the West Bank, the removal of checkpoints from this territory and the opening of certain crossing points in the Gaza Strip, at least the Rafa crossing for the movement of people and one crossing for the movement of goods. Regarding the Middle East peace process negotiations, Dr Rupel, the President of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, said that he had noticed positive progress and that the parties involved had assured him that the negotiations are proceeding and that the Israeli and Palestinian sides are discussing all the issues.
Regarding the role of the EU, Dr Rupel stressed his willingness to make every effort to contribute to the peace process; his visit to the Middle East, ending today with a visit to the Israeli authorities, is aimed at obtaining information from all the parties involved with a view to preparing for the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers to be held the following week in Slovenia.
In response to a press question on whether the EU was in contact with Hamas, Dr Rupel said that this organisation is not among the European Union's discussion partners; in response to a second press question on whether the EU would impose sanctions on Israel on account of its construction of settlements, the Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the purpose of his visit, and the EU's intention in general, was to smooth the progress of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians and that he had not discussed sanctions, which could in no way contribute to this, nor had his partners in discussions proposed them.
Dr Rupel laid a wreath at the mausoleum of the former Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, and before his departure from the Palestinian territories also visited the Qalandia refugee camp where he spoke with Karen Abu Zayd, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).