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(photo credit: Defense Ministry )
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called on for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and for the opening of crossings to the Gaza Strip.
Ban is in Israel to promote a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would end the 20-day long Israeli offensive, Operation Cast Lead.
In an afternoon press conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Ban said that the death toll in Gaza had reached an "unbearable point," and added that it was his understanding in meetings and conversations with both sides that the fighting in Gaza was coming to a close.
"It is my assessment that there are certain elements in place that would enable a cease-fire, but it all hinges on the political will of both sides," he said. He reiterated that the international community expects an immediate ceasefire.
He went on to say that Israel's citizens have the right to live without fear of rockets. A million Israeli citizens live within rocket range day and night, he told reporters, and "this too must stop permanently." He claimed that Hamas's use of private homes and civilian institutions was "unacceptable."
During the conference, Livni said that these were hard times for Israel, but that the government was forced to act in Gaza in order to protect Israeli citizens. She stated that Gaza was ruled by a terrorist regime and that Israel must carry on a dialogue with moderate sources while simultaneously fighting terror.
"Hamas cannot become legitimate until it accepts the terms of the international community," Livni stressed.
A the previous ceasefire, which was in place from June to December 2008, was violated on a daily basis by Hamas, she continued, and the group used this lull to rearm and acquire long-range missiles.
She affirmed that Israel understands the concerns of the international community, which are in line with Israel's values. She added, however, that Hamas was a problem not just for Israel but also for the Palestinians; an obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
She charged the group with being responsible for both civilian casualties and the humanitarian situation in the Strip. The conflict in the region was not between Israel and the Palestinians, she said, but rather between moderates and extremists.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also met with Ban, as well as with Red Cross President President Jacob Kellenberger. During the meeting, he told the two that Hamas gunmen are using Palestinians as human shields, and are firing at IDF troops from the vicinity of UN facilities.
The defense minister stated that IDF soldiers would continue to return fire, in self-defense.
Barak added that the IDF would prevent harm to civilians to the best of its ability, and said that all of the necessary humanitarian work of the UN would be facilitated.