Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking in Beirut on Saturday, again urged an immediate ceasefire to end the 22-day Israeli offensive in Gaza, calling on both sides to stop the fighting first and work out the details later in a bid to halt what he called an “unprecedented” level of violence.
“We have no time to lose. I demand, again, an immediate ceasefire,” Mr. Ban said in an address to the Lebanese National Assembly.
“Both sides must first stop the fighting now. We cannot wait for all the details, the mechanisms, to be conclusively negotiated and agreed, while civilians continue to be traumatized, injured and killed,” he stated.
The Secretary-General arrived in Beirut as part of his ongoing visit to the region to help find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, which began on 27 December when Israel launched a military operation in Gaza with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks against Israel.
Three weeks of violence have already claimed over 1,000 lives, including many women and children, and wounded over 5,000, in addition to causing widespread destruction and tremendous suffering for Gaza''s 1.5 million Palestinian residents.
“The level of violence in Gaza is unprecedented in recent decades,” he noted, citing the high numbers of casualties, the fact that hospitals are struggling to cope and that public infrastructure has been destroyed.
“There are no safe places,” he added, recalling that even UN shelters have not been able to provide sanctuary to civilians trying to flee the fighting, having come under fire several times in recent days.
Mr. Ban, who already met with officials in Cairo, Amman, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Ankara, said the goal of his mission is to boost diplomatic efforts to achieve an immediate ceasefire, as called for by the Security Council last week in resolution 1860, and to ensure that urgent humanitarian assistance be provided, without restriction, to those in desperate need.
The Security Council''s call for a ceasefire has so far gone unheeded. The UN General Assembly last night, following a two-day emergency meeting on Gaza, joined its voice to the Council by demanding full respect for resolution 1860, including its call for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces and unimpeded provision of humanitarian aid.
Yesterday Mr. Ban conferred with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, and called on Israel to unilaterally cease hostilities.
“There is no time to lose, I would even strongly urge [the] Israeli Government and leadership to declare unilaterally, so that there will be a relief for humanitarian workers and [the] people of Gaza,” he told reporters after meeting with Mr. Fayyad.
“We are very close to have an agreement to a ceasefire,” he added, urging those involved in negotiations to wrap them up as soon as possible. “That is what I will continue to work on over the coming few days.”
Speaking to the press after his talks with President Abbas, Mr. Ban said that more days of fighting will only lead to “more casualties, more losses of human lives, more destruction. I would urge again that a unilateral declaration of a ceasefire would be necessary.”
In his address today, the Secretary-General also lauded the progress made in Lebanon over the past year, with the election of President Michel Suleiman, the formation of a Government of national unity and the launching of a national dialogue.
“But this process is as fragile as it is vital,” he cautioned. “I urge you to nurture it, and not allow short-term factors to deter you from shaping solutions that will stand the test of time.”
He also noted that the Gaza conflict is not unlike the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbollah in which many innocent lives were lost. “I urge all parties in Lebanon and in Israel to continue to show restraint during this tense time in the region,” he said.
Following recent incidents of rocket launches from Lebanese territory into Israel, and Israel''s return of fire, the Secretary-General has voiced his concern over any escalation of tension along the so-called Blue Line that separates Israeli and Lebanese sides, at a time when fighting continues in Gaza.
“Further attacks across the Blue Line would put at risk the stability brought about by resolution 1701,” he told Lebanese lawmakers, referring to the Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war.
While in Lebanon, Mr. Ban also visited the UN Interim Force there – known as UNIFIL – where he met with Force Commander Major-General Claudio Graziano and his staff, and received a briefing on the situation in UNIFIL''s area of operations and the work of the peacekeepers in collaboration with the Lebanese Armed Forces.
“UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces have together created a new security environment in south Lebanon,” he noted during the visit.
“This provides a window of opportunity for achieving a permanent ceasefire and long term solution to the conflict. For this to be successful, it is important for the parties to stay committed to the process towards the full implementation of resolution 1701.”
In remarks to the press during his visit to UNIFIL, Mr. Ban cautioned that the current situation in southern Lebanon “though calm, is still fragile.”