Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he believed the elements for an end to the violence in Gaza, which has claimed over 1,000 lives and is now in its 20th day, are in place, even as he expressed “outrage” over the latest shelling of United Nations premises in the Strip.
“Today, the UN compound in Gaza has been shelled again,” Mr. Ban told a news conference in Tel Aviv with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. “I conveyed my strong protest and outrage to the Defense Minister and to the Foreign Minister, and demanded a full explanation.”
Mr. Ban, who also met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, arrived in Israel after talks in Egypt and Jordan as part of his diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire and bring an end to the crisis which began on 27 December when Israel launched its military offensive with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza.
“Defence Minister Barak said to me that it was a grave mistake and that he took it very seriously,” Mr. Ban said. “He assured me that extra attention would be paid to the UN facilities and staff and that this should not be repeated.”
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General said he believed from his talks in Egypt that the elements are in place for the violence – which according to Palestinian health ministry officials has claimed over 1,000 lives and wound some 4,500, including large numbers of women and children – to end now.
“I hope so. But that depends on the political will of the Israeli Government,” he added in reply to a question, stressing that he hoped the Government would now heed the Security Council call for a ceasefire so that “we do not see any further sacrifices and killings of civilian populations, and we see no more destruction of infrastructure and properties...
“The time has come for the violence to stop and for us to change fundamentally the dynamics in Gaza, and to pursue again the peace talks for a two-State solution, which is the only road to lasting security for Israel,” he stated.
“We don’t have any more time to lose. We must end civilian suffering now,” Mr. Ban stressed, adding that the UN is working closely with the Israeli authorities to alleviate the crisis as much as possible.
He paid a special tribute to all the UN staff who are continuing to carry out their work amid the violence. “I am truly proud of the UN staff braving difficult and dangerous circumstances to help those in need.” He later spoke to the staff in the UN compound in Gaza by video-conference.
He also expressed his appreciation for the Israeli Government’s measures to establish a humanitarian operations centre and to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance.
The Secretary-General expects to meet tomorrow in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He is also slated to meet with the leaders of the occupied Palestinian territory, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria during his mission to bring about a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.
Meanwhile in New York, the UN General Assembly is holding an emergency session on the Palestinian question with Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro appealing for an end to the Israeli offensive and Hamas rocket attacks against Israel and unrestricted access to Gaza for basic necessities including food, fuel and medical supplies.
“We must return to the road to peace, to end the [Israeli] occupation that began in 1967, attain the establishment of a Palestinian State which coexists alongside Israel in peace and security,” she said.
Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto said he convened today’s meeting “to place the power and prestige of the General Assembly – the most representative and most democratic component of the United Nations – in motion towards two urgent demands, after which longer-term issues can be considered: an immediate, unconditional ceasefire and immediate unimpeded humanitarian access.
“I know that you share my sense of urgency and our collective commitment to make good on our so-far unmet obligations to the occupied people of Gaza,” he told the 192-member body. “We need serious and expeditious diplomacy, not false promises.”