Ban, Itzik Meet in New York, Discuss Kidnapped Soldiers, PA Government

Knesset Speaker says UN chief expressed admiration for families of missing reservists, invites Ban to visit Israel.

NEW YORK - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon met Friday with Acting President and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, for talks touching on the fate of the two Israel Defense Forces soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah last year as well as the new Palestinian unity government.

Itzik said that the UN chief expressed his high regard for the parents of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, days after he met with members of the soldiers' families in New York. The July abduction of the two IDF reservists on the Israel-Lebanon border sparked a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Ban vowed Wednesday that he would work for the release of the soldiers, who are still in captivity despite the demand for their release included in UN resolution 1701, which ended the fighting.

Itzik said that Ban also stressed the importance of supporting the call for the new Palestinian unity government to accept the three conditions set by the international quartet of peace brokers.

The Quartet, comprising the United States, UN, European Union and Russia, has called on the new Fatah-Hamas government to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous Israel-Palestinian peace agreements. Ban also emphasized Friday the importance of implementing resolution 1701.

Itzik invited the UN chief to visit Israel and expressed her hope that the UN's attitude toward Israel would improve during his term.

On Wednesday, Ban's special adviser to the Middle East, Michael Williams, drove to Hezbollah's stronghold in southern Beirut, where they held talks on the fate of the IDF soldiers with two high-ranking members of the Iranian-backed group.

The Wednesday visit came ahead of a key report on Lebanon that Ban will deliver to the UN Security Council on March 16.