Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is intensifying his diplomatic drive to secure a Gaza ceasefire, meeting with Arab foreign ministers in New York today to press for an end to hostilities by both Israel and Hamas while preparing to travel to Washington tomorrow for talks with United States President George W. Bush.
“I’m going to stress the importance of bringing this violent situation to an immediate halt, with the durable and permanent systems which can be respected fully by all the parties concerned,” he said of the upcoming meeting with Mr. Bush when asked at a press encounter about US “hindrance” to an effort by the Security Council on Saturday to issue a call for a ceasefire.
He told journalists today’s meeting with Arab leaders “provided an excellent and appropriate opportunity” to discuss how to bring “this violence to an immediate end and restore peace and stability in the region, and also a durable peace process which can be fully respected by the parties concerned in the region.
“We have agreed to work very closely so that the Security Council can take decisive and swift and credible action for a binding resolution to bring an immediate end to this crisis and also allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered by opening the crossings [from Israel into Gaza],” he added.
Earlier, in welcoming remarks at the meeting at UN Headquarters, he called on Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, the foreign ministers of Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other Arab representatives to help ensure that Israel end its “clearly excessive” military assault and Hamas stop its “terribly counter-productive” and “completely unacceptable” rocket attacks.
“As leaders I believe we must do more,” he said. “Our task is to find fast and real solutions. It is regrettable that the call by the Security Council has not been heeded by the parties concerned. I believe that the Security Council should live up to its responsibilities under the UN charter and bring this crisis to an end and establish a durable, permanent peace in the region.”
After Israel launched a ground offensive into Gaza on Saturday in addition to its then week-old air attacks, the Council held a closed meeting but reached no formal agreement, although Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert of France, which holds the Council Presidency this month, said there were “strong convergences” to express concern at the stepped up violence and the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
“As Secretary-General, I want to help facilitate a speedy and effective international consensus to end this violence,” Mr. Ban told the Arab leaders, adding that the UN is doing all it can to “feed and help the men, women and children of Gaza and ease their suffering in the midst of this frightening and dangerous ordeal.
“I am trying hard to use the moral authority of my office to bring an end to this trauma,” he said, voicing deep concern at “the terrible crisis unfolding before us…
“We must insist that Israel end its military assault, which is clearly excessive. We must insist that Hamas end immediately its rocket attacks, which are so terribly counter-productive, in addition to being completely unacceptable. There must be an immediate ceasefire, durable and fully respected by all.”
Gaza’s civilian population is “being subjected to a massive trauma that is not of their own making… I am also deeply worried about what the further escalation of this conflict could mean for stability in the region,” he added.
The foreign ministers present were Salaheddine al-Bashir of Jordan, Fawzi Salloukh of Lebanon, Abdel-Rahman Shalgam of Libya, Fassi Fihri of Morocco and Mhamad Husayen al-Shali of UAE. The UN permanent representatives of Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Syria and the Palestinian representative also participated.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due in New York tomorrow as are the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to boost the diplomatic effort for a ceasefire.