• UN chief ‘profoundly troubled’ by Jerusalem violence, fears religious conflict

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    UNITED NATIONS:  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that he was “profoundly troubled” by what he witnessed on his just-completed visit to the violence-wracked Middle East, voicing fear that the tensions have “the potential to add a religious dimension” that could be exploited on both sides.

    Ban, who returned to New York on Thursday, told reporters at UN headquarters that he had “long and detailed discussions with the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders” during his emergency visit to the region. “I was profoundly troubled by what I saw and I heard.”

    The UN chief’s visit to the Middle East region comes in the wake of an uptick in violence since early September. A series of deadly clashes between Palestinians and Israelis, including Israeli security forces, has marked much of October, with incidents reported in more than 50 different locations, including in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus.

    “The tensions around the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount have the potential to add a religious dimension to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that could be exploited by extremists on both sides, with potentially dangerous regional implications,” the secretary-general said at the press conference of the violence that erupted over fears Israel was changing the status quo and restricting Muslims access to holy sites.

    Some Palestinians were accused of fatal, random knife attacks on Israeli citizens and Israeli forces were accused of disproportionate use of force and collective retribution.

    “The level of incitement is utterly unacceptable,” he said. “It is critical for all parties to avoid provocative rhetoric and actions that can further inflame passions in an already overheated environment.”

    “It is equally critical that Israel exercise maximum restraint and make sure that security measures are properly calibrated, so that they do not breed the very frustrations and anxieties which perpetuate violence,” he said.

    “One killing or house demolition creates a whole family of angry people. One neighborhood closure creates a community of despair. One funeral can spread rage among thousands. Force should be a last resort, not a first resort.”

    The secretary-general welcomed the assurance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his country had no intention of changing the status quo on the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount and expressed his appreciation for the efforts of King Abdullah of Jordan, “in accordance with Jordan’s special role as Custodian” of the holy sites.

    “I strongly suggested and urged them to sit down together,” he said. “There is no substitute for direct talks at the leader’s level.”PNA/Xinhua

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