Top UN envoy urges greater international efforts to achieve durable Gaza ceasefire

18 February 2009

The top United Nations envoy to the Middle East today urged the international community to redouble its efforts to help achieve a permanent and durable ceasefire in Gaza, warning that anything less is unsustainable and could lead to more violence.

“One month since unilateral ceasefires were declared, a proper ceasefire regime is still not in place, and there is an ever present danger of a return to the unsustainable conditions of last year, or even for renewed and more devastating violence,” Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, warned in a briefing to the Security Council.

Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza, launched on 27 December with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks against it, is estimated to have killed some 1,300 Palestinians and injured more than 5,300 others, in addition to causing widespread damage and destruction.

The fighting ended with declarations of unilateral ceasefires and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. Egypt is conducting talks with Israel and Hamas aimed at achieving a durable and sustainable ceasefire.

Mr. Serry noted that since the end of major hostilities, “irresponsible” and “unacceptable” attacks have continued by both sides, including the firing of rockets by Palestinian militants from Gaza towards Israel, and Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

“We are dangerously close to the previous situation, which we know has proven to be unsustainable,” he told reporters after the Council meeting.

“If it comes to that, we need to redouble our efforts…because we all want a changed dynamic in Gaza. For that, we don’t need only a ceasefire but we also need to address all the other underlying issues which have bedevilled us for so long in Gaza.”

Those issues include an exchange of Palestinian prisoners for the release of Israeli captive Gilad Shalit, the end to weapons smuggling to Gaza, and the full re-opening of all crossing points.

In the past few weeks, a daily average of 146 truckloads entered Gaza – four times what entered Gaza in December 2008, but only a third of what entered in May 2007. As a result, Gaza’s 1.4 million residents remain “desperately” short of vital supplies, he noted.

“While we appreciate Israel’s stated readiness to address humanitarian needs, we have not yet seen truly open crossings for required access, which is so crucial given the extent of the needs in Gaza,” Mr. Serry told the Council.

In addition to the severe humanitarian, economic and political repercussions of the Gaza crisis, the Special Coordinator outlined several other issues that need to be addressed to advance peace during what he described as a “formative moment for the future of the Middle East.”

These include continued Palestinian divisions; a new political situation in Israel – where last week’s election produced no clear winner; and unmet obligations under the Road Map peace plan, especially regarding settlements.

“The challenges are daunting, but peace can prevail, and it must,” Mr. Serry stressed. “In the year ahead, the international community will need to be united and determined, and intensify its efforts.”

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