UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday he will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories later this month in an effort to help revive the peace process between the two sides.
Ban said he would make the trip, which will include a stop in Lebanon, on his way to the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia on March 28-29.
Ban said he chose the Middle East for his second major overseas trip as UN chief because "security in the Middle East is one of the most important issues which we are now facing." He visited several African countries last month.
He singled out the Israel-Palestinian conflict as one of the most pressing in the region, saying resolving it would create a "conducive political atmosphere for the resolution of other issues in the Middle East."
"I'm looking forward to, first of all, a meeting with leaders in the region and making myself available for any
consultation and to make a contribution to (the) peace process," he said.
Ban has been involved in US-backed efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace effort after a six-year
freeze. He said he would participate in two months in another round of talks among the so-called Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the UN, the US, the European Union and Russia.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet for the
second time in a month in an effort to keep their line of communication open.
Both sides, however, said they expected no major breakthroughs.
Abbas, a moderate who is eager to restart peace talks, has been trying to finalize a power-sharing agreement with Hamas, an Islamic group that calls for Israel's destruction and has a majority in the Palestinian parliament.
Israel says it does not want to delve into real issues of peace talks unless the new government meets international demands to renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing peace agreements.
The power-sharing deal falls short of those demands, but Abbas says its the best he can get from Hamas.