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Visiting Ramallah, UN humanitarian chief voices solidarity with suffering people

Visiting Ramallah, UN humanitarian chief voices solidarity with suffering people

The United Nations humanitarian chief has opened his first official trip to the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel with a visit to the West Bank town of Ramallah, which he described as an act of solidarity with the suffering people of the region.

Mr. Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said many people in the Gaza Strip – which has been the subject of tight Israeli restrictions over the past month – were hovering on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

Meanwhile, closures in the West Bank were destroying economic life there, Mr. Holmes said, and in the Israeli town of Sderot, the target of frequent rocket attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza, communities were living in fear of rocket barrages.

The Under-Secretary-General, who is on a five-day visit to the region, stressed that the present situation cannot continue.

“I have come here to see for myself what is happening on both sides,” he said.

Today he also met Robert Serry, the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, to discuss concerns about the violence and restrictions in Gaza and the West Bank and the attacks against civilians in Sderot. He also held consultations with Samir Al Abdullah, the Palestinian Authority’s Planning Minister.

Tomorrow Mr. Holmes plans visit two Gaza border crossings, Erez and Karni, which are both currently closed. He is also scheduled to visit Shifa hospital, which is finding it difficult to provide adequate medical care because of the reduced fuel, electricity, medicines and other supplies to Gaza.

In a related development, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a message to today’s opening at UN Headquarters in New York of the latest session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Mr. Ban said in his message – delivered on his behalf by his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar – that Israel’s decision to introduce a full closure of the Gaza Strip last month “has cut off an already destitute population of Gaza from vitally needed supplies.

“The recent breach of the border between Gaza and Egypt showed the degree of desperation among ordinary Gazans, as thousands crossed into Egypt in search of food and basic daily necessities.”

The Secretary-General reminded Israel of its obligations under international law towards Gaza’s civilian population. He said those obligations included the laws of occupation, “which continue to apply to the extent of Israel’s control over the territory and its population.”

Mr. Ban also noted that he has repeatedly called on Palestinian groups to stop firing rockets at Israeli civilians and on Israel to show maximum restraint in its military operations and avoid a disproportionate response.

“It is the responsibility of all parties to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law and not to harm civilians.”

In addition, Mr. Ban backed the proposal of the Palestinian Authority to operate the Gaza Strip, and said a restoration of “the unity of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank within the legitimate framework of the Palestinian Authority” was critical for a viable peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians.