The United Nations humanitarian chief today voiced his concern at the impact of indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israel during a visit to the town of Sderot, an area severely affected by bombardments from the Gaza Strip.
“The people of Sderot and the surrounding area have had to live with these unacceptable and indiscriminate rocket attacks for seven years now. There is no doubt about the physical and psychological suffering these attacks are causing,” said John Holmes, who is on a five-day trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, his first as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
“I condemn them utterly and call on those responsible to stop them now without conditions,” added Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.
While in Sderot, Mr. Holmes met with the city officials, including the Mayor, who briefed him on the difficulties faced by local civilians as a result of almost daily rocket attacks. Over the past seven years, a number of houses in the area have been damaged, the local economy has suffered, and some 12 per cent of the city's 22,000 residents have left.
“There are no military targets in this city. These victims here are innocent civilians. There is no time to lose in putting an end to this vicious circle of violence. More violence will not bring peace to the people of Sderot,” Mr. Holmes said.
“But cutting back on fuel and electricity supplies to Gaza is unlikely to stop the rockets either,” he noted. “It can only be achieved through political negotiations aimed at a comprehensive just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, who at the end of the day have to live together.”
Mr. Holmes also visited a school for children with disabilities and a local community centre, as well as a house that was hit by a rocket two days ago.
In addition, he traveled to Tel Aviv, where he held talks with Israeli defense officials. Mr. Holmes expressed his concerns over the severe humanitarian impacts of West Bank closures and restrictions on movement into the Gaza Strip, and suggested better ways for delivering vital spare parts and supplies in areas such as medical equipment and water and sanitation systems.
Also today, the UN humanitarian chief visited Ramallah in the West Bank where he discussed how to further strengthen humanitarian efforts with a group of Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Mr. Holmes is expected to conclude his visit to the region tomorrow with meetings with senior officials from the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.