Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, stressing that Israel's unilateral decision to halt its 22-day military offensive in Gaza should lead to a durable peace, called on Sunday for Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel and for Israel to withdraw its forces from the Strip.
Mr. Ban also announced he will send a humanitarian needs assessment team early this week to Gaza, where three weeks of violence have claimed over 1,000 lives and wounded more than 5,000, in addition to causing widespread destruction as well as suffering for the territory's 1.5 million Palestinian residents. He intends to launch a humanitarian appeal for Gaza soon after.
“Even after the announcement of a ceasefire by Israel, the situation on the ground is still volatile and dangerous,” he told the Conference on Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Gaza, held today in the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, noting that clashes, rockets and actions by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) continue.
“For the sake of the people of Gaza, I urge in the strongest possible terms Hamas to stop firing rockets,” he stated. “As all of us had urged Israelis to stop its offensive, those who have influence on Hamas must press them now to stop rocket firing.
“For its part, I urge Israel in the strongest possible terms to show utmost restraint and withdraw its troops from Gaza in the coming days,” the Secretary-General added.
Mr. Ban arrived in Egypt following a stop in Damascus, where he discussed the situation in Gaza with President Bashar al-Assad. His efforts to secure a diplomatic solution to the three-week 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, also took him to Cairo, Amman, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Ankara and Beirut.
Speaking to reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Secretary-General said he looked to world leaders to continue to work together “to make this ceasefire a durable and sustainable one and which could be respected fully by all parties concerned.”
He stressed the need to urgently bring the Middle East peace process back on track and pledged to work with the other members of the diplomatic Quartet – the European Union, Russia and the United States – in that regard.
“We have already experienced sufferings and tragedies in 2006 in Lebanon, the situation in Gaza has been a repetition of the failure of this peace process, this is a failure of political will, at the level of people and at the level of leadership,” he stated.