Switzerland in Talks over International Gaza Conference

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The Swiss foreign ministry said Wednesday it is in talks about holding an international conference sought by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas focusing on protecting civilians in Gaza.

"Switzerland has begun consultations with state parties to the Geneva Conventions, following an official Palestinian request that a conference be held by the end of the year," said a ministry statement.

It underlined that for a conference to take place, a broad consensus was required among the Geneva Conventions' 195 signatory states.

Although Abbas' request was prompted by the latest eruption of hostilities in Gaza -- which has so far killed more than 1,300 in 23 days of bloodshed -- longer-running concerns about the fate of Palestinians in areas under Israeli control are likely to be on the table.

The Geneva Conventions govern the conduct of belligerents during warfare and the treatment of civilians in occupied territories.

As the formal guardian of the accords, which originated in the 19th century and were revised after World War II, Switzerland received a request from Abbas on July 9.

Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, who is also the neutral nation's foreign minister, responded formally to Abbas on July 25, the statement said.

The Palestinian leadership was able to make the request to Switzerland because it adopted the Conventions in April.

The move, which was followed by its formal accession to a handful of United Nations treaties, was part of a diplomatic drive to win recognition as a state.

The Palestinians gained non-member observer status at the United Nations in November 2012, despite fierce opposition from Israel and the United States.

Switzerland said it urged Israel and Hamas to reach a genuine ceasefire agreement, to ensure the protection of civilians and aid the thousands of Gazans wounded or displaced in the embattled territory.

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