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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sharply condemned Israeli and Palestinian violence as he made his first visit to the war-scarred areas of Gaza and Sderot on Tuesday.
Standing among the smoldering ruins in Gaza City and viewing the metal remnants of Palestinian-launched rockets stockpiled in the back of the Sderot police station, he had harsh words for both sides.
In Gaza, he said, Israel had used "excessive" force during its 22-day military operation, which ended on Sunday.
"I have seen only a fraction of the destruction and suffering," Ban said. "These are heartbreaking scenes. I am deeply grieved by what I have seen."
In honor of the Palestinian victims of the violence, he led a moment of silence at the smoldering UN headquarters, which was hit by Israeli shells last week during an IDF battle with Hamas.
He called the attack "outrageous" and "totally unacceptable."
"I have protested many times and am condemning it. I have asked for a full investigation and to make those people responsible accountable," he said, adding that there had to be a thorough investigation into civilian deaths in general.
He said he was sending a mission into Gaza on Thursday to assess the damage, and he pledged that the UN would do all it could to help in the reconstruction and recovery efforts.
But even in Gaza, Ban took a moment to condemn the repeated rocket attacks launched at Israel over the past eight years by Gaza Palestinians.
In Sderot, he called the rocket attacks "appalling" and "unacceptable."
"You live every day with the threat of a rocket falling from the sky. No human being can live for long in a state of fear in such a way," he said of the people of Sderot.
In both Gaza and Sderot, he spoke of the need for political solutions that would strengthen what he termed a "fragile cease-fire."
"I appeal to both Fatah, Hamas, to all Palestinian factions, to reunite within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority," he said.
Such unity, he said, was a necessary component for elections, political negotiations and the restoration of international agreements that would both open the crossings and allow the international community to help with Gaza's reconstruction.
In Sderot, he said that "Hamas must cease firing these rockets" and measures must be taken to stop the smuggling of illegal weapons into Gaza.
In addition, he said, it was important to help the Palestinians maintain a normal life.
He warned that if political action to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were not taken, the desperation the Palestinians felt would lead to a radicalism that would only serve to strengthen Hamas, and that was in no one's interest.
After speaking with the press, Ban traveled to a Resilience Center run by the city to help traumatized children.
He also visited with Sderot Mayor David Bouskila in the bunker that has served as Bouskila's office since the end of December.
"We feel the pain of the civilians that suffered so much in the Gaza Strip, but we also feel the pain of the children here," Bouskila said.
He added that the blame for the civilian deaths both in Gaza and in Sderot lay with Hamas.
AP contributed to this report
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