UN chief to make first trip to Israel

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to visit Israel and PA at the end of the month.

Elad Benari ,

Antonio Guterres
Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will pay his first visit since taking office to Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) at the end of the month, diplomats said Thursday, according to AFP.

The trip will include a visit to Gaza as well, the report said.

The UN chief will hold talks with Israeli leaders, travel to Ramallah to meet PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and to Gaza , where the United Nations runs a major Palestinian aid program, during the three-day visit beginning August 28.

Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon said the visit will allow Guterres to "build a relationship" with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and that he will also hold meetings with President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

"We are very happy about this visit," Danon told AFP, adding, "It's a great opportunity for the secretary-general to experience Israel, to meet the leaders of Israel and to understand the challenges that Israel faces day-in and day-out."

The Israeli government will discuss strengthening the mission of the UN interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), said Danon, following a series of skirmishes along the UN-monitored demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon.

The visit comes as diplomatic efforts to revive Israeli-PA peace talks appear deadlocked.

Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, "is experienced. He has been to Israel in the past. He knows the complexity of the issues. He is not someone who comes to our region and has no clue about what is happening," said Danon.

Guterres took over as UN chief from Ban Ki-moon on January 1. In April, he reassured international Jewish community leaders that he would stand up against any perceptions of anti-Israel bias at the world organization.

At the same time, he has also spoken out against “Israeli occupation”, claiming it causes a “heavy humanitarian and development burden” on Palestinian Arabs.

In March, the UN chief demanded that a report by a UN body be withdrawn after it accused Israel of imposing an apartheid system on Palestinian Arabs.

Guterres had initially distanced himself from the report, but the United States insisted that it be withdrawn altogether.