UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lashed out at Israel for striking his organization’s facilities in Gaza during the conflict this summer as he visited the Strip on Tuesday, and said he was considering launching his own investigation into the matter.
He also called on Israel to end its “occupation” of land over the pre-1967 lines and to lift all its restrictions on the Gaza borders.
“This is one of the fundamental underlying issues, ending the occupation and lifting the blockade, that I have been urging the parties, the Palestinians and Israelis, to address,” Ban said.
Several times during his visit, Ban remarked that he was surprised and unprepared for the level of devastation wrought by the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza.
“No amount of Security Council sessions, reports or briefings could have prepared me for what I witnessed today,” he said. “I met so many of the beautiful children of Gaza. More than 500 were killed during the conflict – many more were wounded.
What have they done wrong?” he asked. “Being born in Gaza is not a crime.”
He called on both Hamas and Israel to halt the endless cycle of violence that has led to three military conflicts in the last six years, including Operation Protective Edge this summer, during which some 2,000 Palestinians were killed. Sixty- seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel also died at the hands of Hamas rockets and other attacks.
“There can be no peace in the Middle East, no security for Israel, while the crisis in Gaza festers,” Ban said.
“The build-destroy, build-destroy cycle must be broken. The mindless pattern of blockade, rockets and destruction must stop.”
He called on Hamas to stop firing rockets at Israel, and also spoke generally of the need for both sides to be held accountable for killing and harming innocent people.
“Those who have committed criminal acts, those who have violated international humanitarian law, must be investigated and brought to justice,” said Ban.
But when he spoke about specific investigations, he mentioned Israel’s internal one into IDF activity in Gaza as well as the UN Human Rights Council’s probe into Israeli activity.
In addition to those, he said, “I, as secretary-general of the United Nations, am considering establishing my own Board of Inquiry to investigate the shelling of the UN facilities and killing of UN staff.” He did not mention an investigation into Hamas activity.
Its estimated that some 100 UN buildings were damaged in the war.
The UN has also charged the IDF with attacking three of its UNRWA schools where civilians sought shelter, including the one that Ban visited in Jabalya.
“All of the details related to the location of this facility were shared with Israeli military authorities again and again,” Ban said. “Yet the shells fell.”
Ban said he was pleased to see that new mechanisms to allow construction material into Gaza had become operational that morning. The mechanism was created by the UN, Israel and the Palestinian Authority to monitor the material to ensure it is not used by Hamas to build infiltration tunnels.
After Gaza, Ban visited one of the Hamas attack tunnels and a kibbutz near the border, where met with the residents.
During his two-day visit, he met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. He also convened with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah.
Netanyahu chastised Ban for not ensuring that all his facilities remained neutral in the conflict. During the summer, UNRWA discovered that weapons had been stored in a number of its facilities.
The prime minister also took issue with a charge by Ban that the “occupation” was the root cause of the conflict. The Palestinian failure to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Hamas’s goal of destroying it are the root causes, Netanyahu said, adding that “Gaza is not occupied.”Reuters contributed to this story.
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