Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Palestinians back away from ban on UN envoy

DIPLOMATIC STORM Yasser Arafat's top adviser said a Norwegian diplomat, who accused the Palestinian leader of blocking vital reforms, might still be asked to leave

AP , UNITED NATIONS

Palestinians stand in line as they wait to pass the Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus on Wednesday. The Israeli military closed the checkpoint for several hours on Wednesday due to warnings of attackers coming into Israel, and opened it later for everyone except men under 35 years old.

PHOTO: AP

The Palestinians backed off from an immediate ban on the UN Mideast envoy after he criticized Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, but step-ped up their attacks against him and didn't rule out a future ban.

Terje Roed-Larsen, a Norwegian diplomat who describes himself as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's "eyes and ears on the ground" in the Middle East, was at the center of a diplomatic storm after a briefing to the UN Security Council on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nearing the end of his Mideast mission, Roed-Larsen expressed frustration at the lack of progress toward peace and blamed Arafat for blocking vital reforms in the Palestinian Authority and peace moves backed by the world body.

Arafat's top adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, described the UN envoy as "useless" and said he was no longer welcome in Palestinian areas. But Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian observer at the UN, said Roed-Larsen's legal status has not been decided and would be discussed with Annan when the secretary-general returns next week.

Al-Kidwa refused to say whether the Palestinians will ask Annan to remove Roed-Larsen, but he made clear that comments by Rdeneh and others reflected "real Palestinian anger" at the UN envoy's positions -- and that anger is not about to go away.

"We respect the United Nations as an institution. We know the rules and we play by the rules. No actions will be taken to prevent Mr. Larsen from entering the Palestinian territory. However, the position of the Palestinian officials is something else," Al-Kidwa said.

Al-Kidwa called the UN envoy's briefing "absolutely unacceptable," arguing that it "reflects basically an amalgamation of Israeli and American positions."

His office issued a six-point rebuttal of Roed-Larsen's briefing, complaining that it made "scant mention" of the world court ruling demanding that Israel tear down the separation barrier it is building to isolate the West Bank and "incomprehensively praised [Israeli] Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's initiative" in calling for a withdrawal from Gaza.

"The briefing waged unfair attacks against the Palestinian Authority and its president," it said. "Moreover, the briefing constituted a vulgar interference with internal Palestinian affairs and more importantly, it exempted Israel, the occupying power, from its direct responsibility for the current serious difficulties facing the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people."

After Tuesday's briefing, Roed-Larsen insisted that his report was balanced, noting that he also pressed Israel to pull out of the West Bank and Gaza and remove restrictions on Palestinians.

Roed-Larsen was not available for comment on Wednesday, but Annan came to his defense, as did US Ambassador John Danforth.

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