UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Photo by Reuters
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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Saturday that upcoming direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians "must not be wasted."

In a statement issued after the announcement that direct talks would take place in Washington on September 2, Ban said he "welcomes the decision by both Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to begin direct negotiations, following the statement of the Quartet and at the invitation of the U.S. government."

"Negotiations are the only way for the parties to resolve all final status issues and he [Ban] calls upon both sides to show leadership courage, and responsibility to realize the aspirations of both peoples," the statement read. "We should all be aware that this is an opportunity that must not be wasted."

Israel and the Palestinians accepted on Friday an invitation by the United States and other powers to restart direct talks on Sept. 2 in a modest step toward forging a peace deal within 12 months to create a Palestinian state and peacefully end one of the world's most intractable conflicts.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with President Barack Obama on Sept. 1, before formally resuming direct negotiations the following day at the State Department in Washington.

However, the al-Sharq al-Awsat report Saturday stated that the Palestinians will opt out of direct negotiations if Israel would not extend its present freeze on West Bank settlement construction beyond its September 26 expiration date.