Israel blocks key West Bank summit

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Published Sunday, August 5, 2012

A key meeting of Non-Aligned Movement ministers which was to have taken place in the West Bank on Sunday was cancelled after Israel denied five of them entry, officials said.

The ministers were to have attended a two-day meeting of the movement's Palestine Committee in Ramallah at which they were poised to sign a declaration in support of a fresh Palestinian bid for upgraded UN membership.

"After consultation between all the delegations in Amman and the Palestinian leadership, the Ramallah meeting of the Palestine Committee of the Non-Aligned Movement has been cancelled," a senior Palestinian official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The cancellation came shortly after Israel barred ministers from Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cuba and Algeria from traveling to Ramallah.

A senior Israeli official said the ban targeted five countries, which do not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state in protest at their oppression of the Palestinians.

"A decision has been taken to bar the diplomatic representatives of several countries which do not recognize Israel from crossing the Israeli borders," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Algeria had earlier informed the Palestinian Authority it would not be sending a delegation in order to avoid friction at the Israeli-controlled frontier.

Foreign ministers from the 13 countries belonging to NAM's Palestine Committee were to have signed the so-called "Ramallah Declaration" in support of a Palestinian bid to upgrade their UN status from observer to non-member state.

Speaking to reporters in Ramallah on Saturday, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said the statement was "a political declaration that endorses and supports the Palestinian people's right to have state, condemns settlements and supports the Palestinian bid to obtain non-member status at the UN."

The request will be put to the UN General Assembly on September 27, he said in a move which comes exactly a year after Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas tried to obtain full member status.

Despite the high-profile effort, the request was never put to a vote in the UN Security Council, where the United States had threatened to use its veto to protect its ally Israel.

"In the up-and-coming session of the General Assembly next month, President Abbas will speak about this on the 27th," Malki said.

"Palestine will apply immediately to the UN and the head of the General Assembly will be informed that Palestine wants to obtain non-member status," he said.

"After that, we will begin communicating with all components of the General Assembly to talk about the appropriate date" for a vote on the issue.

The fresh attempt to secure upgraded status is likely to win support from most NAM states when it holds its 16th annual summit in Tehran later this month.

"The Non-Aligned summit in Tehran will adopt the Ramallah declaration," Malki said.

The minister also said the logistics of getting the foreign ministers into Ramallah for Sunday's meeting had been closely coordinated with Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

"The logistics of getting them here isn't easy at all, especially as some countries have no relations with Israel and cannot enter through the Israeli border," he said.

The Palestine Committee comprises ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Senegal, Colombia and India.

Normally, anyone visiting the Palestinian territories can only get there by flying into Tel Aviv then driving through Israel to reach Ramallah, or coming through an Israeli-controlled border crossing from Jordan into the occupied West Bank.

In a bid to simplify the logistics, Malki had said the ministers would be flown by helicopter from a Jordanian airport to Ramallah in a move which still requires Israeli permission.

Last month, the Arab League backed Palestinian plans to seek upgraded UN status, but did not set a date for the bid.

They also approved Palestinian plans to begin consultations with UN groupings such as the European Union, the African Group, the Non-Aligned Movement and the South American bloc "in order to obtain their support for the Palestinian demand."

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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