"The United Nations, for its part, will spare no effort in advancing the peace process and, meanwhile, continuing to help the Palestinians cope with socio-economic hardship," he said in a message delivered to the meeting in Paris by the Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, Sergei Ordzhonikidze.
The two-day UN International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Middle East Peace, being held at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), was mandated by General Assembly resolutions 59/28 and 59/29 of 1 December 2004.
It will provide civil society organizations from all regions of the world with an opportunity to discuss the situation on the ground, develop action-oriented proposals in support of Middle East peace, and coordinate their activities in promoting a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.
Non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives and other participants will have an opportunity to discuss issues of particular interest to civil society organizations. It is envisaged that a plan of action will be adopted by participants at the close of the Conference.
"This conference is a fine example of the evolution that has taken place in the relationship between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations - a relationship that goes back to the Charter itself," Mr. Annan declared, saying he was encouraged by the progress achieved since February's summit between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
But, he added: "Despite some progress on the ground, the world community remains concerned about the continuing expansion of settlements, construction of the barrier in the West Bank, and acts of violence. The parties have been reminded repeatedly of their obligations under the Road Map, and of the need to refrain from actions that could prejudge the outcome of the final status negotiations."
The Road Map peace plan, drawn up by the UN, European Union (EU), Russia and the United States, calls for parallel and reciprocal steps by Israel and the Palestinians leading to two States living in peace and security, originally targeted for the end of this year.