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United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan hinted Tuesday that Palestinians refugees should not be granted the right to return to the State of Israel.

In his final address to the Security Council, Annan said, "The two-state solution - Israel and Palestine - must respect the rights of the Palestinian refugees, but only within the context of preserving the character of states in the region."

Annan ends 10 years on the job on December 31, and will be succeeded by South Korean Ban Ki-moon.

Annan warned that tensions in the Middle East were "near the breaking point," saying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved in order to bring lasting peace to the region.

Annan also chastised supporters of the Palestinians for their criticism of Security Council actions, where the United States has vetoed most measures critical of Israel.

"Some may feel satisfaction at repeatedly passing General Assembly resolutions or holding conferences that condemn Israel's behavior," Annan said. "But one should also ask whether such steps bring any tangible relief or benefit to the Palestinians."

Describing decades of resolutions and a proliferation of special committees, Annan asked if this had any effect on Israel other than to strengthen the belief "that this great organization is too one-sided to be allowed a significant role in the Middle East peace process."

"Even worse, some of the rhetoric used in connection with the issue implies a refusal to concede the very legitimacy of Israel's existence, let alone the validity of its security concerns," Annan said. "What was done to Jews and others by the Nazis remains an undeniable tragedy, unique in human history."

But he said that while "Israelis may reply that they are merely protecting themselves from terrorism, which they have every right to do ... Israel will receive more understanding if its actions were clearly designed to help end an occupation rather than to entrench it."

"Israel's democracy can thrive only if the occupation over another people ends," he said.

Annan offered tough words for both the Israelis and Palestinians, saying the two sides were equally responsible for bringing an end to violence and making concessions toward reaching a two-state solution.

Annan criticized the Israel Defense Forces' recent five-month-long military operation in the Gaza Strip following the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas-linked militants, during which more than 300 Palestinians were killed, mostly militants.

"The use of military force in densely populated civilian areas is a blunt instrument that only produces more death, destruction, recrimination and revenge," he said. "And as we have seen, it does little to achieve the desired goal of stopping terrorist attacks."

Annan said, however, the Palestinians will not achieve their goal of a forming a sovereign state without renouncing violent acts. "No resistance to occupation can justify terrorism," he said.

He urged an immediate return to the stalled roadmap peace talks backed by the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators - the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia.

"Tensions in the region are near the breaking point," he said. "The opportunity for negotiating a two-state solution will last for only so long. Should we fail to seize it, the people who most directly bear the brunt of this calamity will be consigned to new depths of suffering and grief."

But he said Quartet members needed to do more to restore faith in its "own serious and effectiveness."

Israel's deputy UN Ambassador Daniel Carmon rejected the assertion the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the "source of all instability in our region," placing the blame instead on extremism and radicalism. He cited as an example Iran's hosting this week of a conference examining whether the Holocaust actually occurred.

"Iran's denial of the Holocaust, its pursuit of nuclear weaponry and its strategic backing of Hamas and Hezbollah - and who knows what next - threatens peace and security," Carmon said.