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The UN Security Council on Wednesday called for the temporary cease-fire in Gaza to be turned into a durable truce with guarantees to prevent arms smuggling and to ensure that all border crossings are permanently reopened.
A press statement, drafted by Britain and France, that was agreed to by all 15 council members welcomed Sunday's unilateral cease-fires by Israel and Hamas following the 22-day offensive that Israel launched on Dec. 27 in an effort to halt years of rocket fire by Hamas on its southern communities and arms smuggling into Gaza.
The council expressed "grave concern" at the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where over 1,300 people were killed and many buildings and neighborhoods were destroyed, and urged the unimpeded delivery of aid throughout the territory.
The Security Council emphasized the need to fully implement the legally binding resolution adopted by the council on Jan. 8 which "stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza." It also calls on UN member states "to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable cease-fire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained re-opening" of border crossings.
The resolution was approved by a vote of 14-0 with the US abstaining, but the United States supported Wednesday's press statement.
Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the time of the Jan. 8 vote that the United States "fully supports" the resolution, but abstained because it wanted to see the outcome of Egyptian mediation that was taking place to achieve a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
The Security Council on Wednesday expressed "strong appreciation" for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's efforts to support implementation of the Jan. 8 resolution.
Ban briefed the council just before it issued the statement on his Mideast trip aimed at stopping the fighting in Gaza and rocketing of southern Israel. The secretary-general attended the meeting, but his statement was read by Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe because he lost his voice on the trip.
Ban said the unilateral cease-fires and Wednesday's withdrawal of Israeli troops were important achievements "but conditions are still fragile, and much more remains to be done on both the humanitarian and diplomatic fronts."
"I look to Egypt and others to continue vital
efforts to seek understandings and mechanisms to ensure that a durable and sustainable cease-fire is quickly put in place," he said.
The secretary-general said he also looked to regional and international leaders, including the Arab League, the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia - as well as the Security Council "to come together to contribute to and help sustain these guarantees and arrangements" that prevent arms smuggling and ensure the reopening of Gaza's border crossings.
Pascoe told reporters afterward that diplomatic efforts are continuing on these key issues which are essential to a lasting cease-fire.
Ban stressed that "for any sustainable political progress to occur and for Gaza to properly recover and rebuild, Palestinians must face the challenges of reconciliation."
The Security Council statement on Wednesday encouraged "tangible steps towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation" and stepped up efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel.
Riyad Mansour, who represents the Palestinian Authority at the UN told reporters, said that Palestinians "were united in the field against Israeli aggression."
"The biggest lesson of this war and aggression against us (is that) we need to be immediately united so that we can form national unity or national reconciliation cabinet to address the monumental task of ... healing the wounds in Gaza and the reconstruction of Gaza ... and also preparing for having elections as early as possible - for both presidential and parliamentarian elections," he said.
"We need unity today more than any other moment in our recent history because we cannot deal with all the things that we have to deal with divided," Mansour stressed. "If that division (is) to continue it would entrench the division between Gaza and the West Bank and would be a huge blow against our dream and aspiration of having a contiguous, viable Palestinian state in all the areas that Israel occupied in 1967 including east Jerusalem."
Ban reiterated his anger at the "outrageous attacks against UN facilities" in Gaza, including several schools and the UNRWA compound in Gaza City. He said he expects "a full explanation of each incident" from Israel, and that those responsible be held accountable.
He said he will "decide on appropriate follow-up action" after receiving a report on Israel's inquiry from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which appeared to step back from earlier UN demands for an independent inquiry.
Mansour said the Palestinians view that statement by Ban to contain many things including legal proceedings "to bring all Israeli criminals who committed all these atrocities against us and against UN agencies to justice."
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