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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel and the Palestinians on Wednesday to seize the opportunity for negotiations following the diplomatic agreements between Israel and two Gulf Arab states that resulted in the suspension of any Israeli annexation of territory that the Palestinians want for a future state.

He said at a news conference that the United Nations has been pushing hard not only to promote direct contact but also to try to find a format in which the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.N., U.S., European Union and Russia — or a group of countries linked to the Quartet could meet.

“Until now, we were not able to gather the consensus necessary for that, but we will persist in our efforts,” he said. “It is very important not to give up on the peace process in the Middle East.”

Guterres reiterated the U.N.’s welcome for the U.S.-brokered bilateral agreements that formalized the normalization of Israel’s already thawing relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in line with their common opposition to Iran, saying “international cooperation is an absolutely essential aspect to solve problems.”

The agreements were signed Tuesday at a White House ceremony with U.S. President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain.

Guterres focused on the UAE agreement, which requires Israel to suspend its contentious plan to annex o(backslash)West Bank land sought by the Palestinians.

“We always have said that annexation would have dramatic consequences to the peace and stability in the region, would undermine the two state solution,” the U.N. chief said. “And we believe that the two state solution is the only way to address the problem of the two peoples that need to be able to live together in peace and security.”

“The annexation was suspended, and we believe it’s the moment in which it’s important that Palestinians and Israelis restart their dialogue in order to find a political solution in line with what are the Security Council resolutions,” he said.

Guterres noted that Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday “that it’s important to restart those negotiations, which show that there is an agreement with this perspective.”

Gantz also serves as “alternate” prime minister until he is expected to replace Netanyahu late next year, under a power-sharing agreement that ended more than a year of political turmoil.

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In Brussels, Belarus Opposition Urges EU to Move on Sanctions

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The main opposition leader of Belarus urged the European Union on Monday to approve sanctions on officials accused of rigging the presidential election last month, travelling to Brussels to tell the bloc's foreign ministers to show courage.

Despite a sixth straight weekend of mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko over the disputed Aug. 9 vote, the EU has yet to follow through on a threat to impose sanctions on Belarusian officials. EU member states have yet to give approval to a final list of some 40 officials to be targeted.

"EU leaders have reasons not to push sanctions but I asked them to be more brave," Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the election, told reporters after meeting foreign ministers.

"Sanctions are important in our fight because it's part of pressure that could force the so-called authorities to start dialogue with us in the opposition council," she told a news conference.

The EU, like the United States, wants new elections in Belarus and for Lukashenko to quit after 26 years in power. Tsikhanouskaya, whose supporters say she won the Aug. 9 election, has ruled herself out of running in a new vote.

The EU said in late August it would impose asset freezes and travel bans on Belarusian government, election and security officials.

However, sanctions require agreement among all 27 EU member states, and the Belarus issue has become entangled in a debate over separate sanctions against Turkey, in a dispute over energy resources off Cyprus. Cyprus says it supports EU sanctions on Belarus but wants the bloc first to approve sanctions it has proposed on Turkish gas drilling operations.

(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Peter Graff)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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