GENEVA - United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Israel on Monday that keeping its long-standing blockade of Gaza would only condemn the area's people to lasting poverty and play into the hands of extremists in the Middle East.

In a speech to the world body's Human Rights Council, Ban also blamed what he called "indiscriminate rocket fire" into Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza and serious rights violations there for "the immense human suffering" of its population.

"I urge Israel to lift its harsh restrictions in order to ease the plight of civilians and bring an end to the closure," the UN chief declared in a reference to the blockade which the Israel government argues is a security measure.

"Keeping a large and dense population in unremitting poverty is in nobody's interest except that of the most extreme radicals in the region," he declared.

Israel says its land-and-sea blockade is part of an effort to prevent weaponry and other equipment that could help build an offensive military potential reaching the territory's Hamas Islamist rulers and other militant groups based there.

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