Ban Ki-moon: End Gaza violence, blockades

UNHRC to probe whether Israel abusing human rights; Red Cross: Sides must respect int'l law.

Ban side on 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ban side on 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday implored Israel to reverse its decision to close the Gaza border crossings, warning that the cutoff of supplies is provoking a humanitarian crisis among 1.4 million Gazans. About 120 daily truckloads of basic foods and medicine have been allowed through the crossing into Gaza since the Hamas takeover in June, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered a halt to all border traffic Thursday night in attempt to halt a surge of rocket fire on southern Israel. Ban urged an immediate end to the violence engulfing southern Israel and Gaza, including Palestinian rocket attacks, and called on IDF troops to show maximum restraint. The closure "cuts off the population from much-needed fuel supplies used to pump water and generate electricity to homes and hospitals," he said. "If this situation endures, the closure will also cause further shortages of food, medical and relief items in the Gaza Strip." International air organizations expressed concern over the closure of the crossings, which was expected to last at least several days. The UN Relief and Works Agency, which distributes cooking oil, flour and sugar to hundreds of thousands of Gazans, said it had about two months worth of supplies in its warehouses. However, Gazans need to supplement the basics with nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables and proteins, which have become increasingly expensive and hard to find, said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness. John Ging, the Gaza-based head of UNRWA, said the most immediate concern was the halt in delivery of fuel, of which there are no stockpiles. "The supplies that are in most desperate need is the fuel," he said. "This is a very precarious situation." He said Israeli officials told him they would meet early next week to evaluate the situation and decide whether to reopen the passages. Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror said Gazans had sufficient stocks of food so that no one would go hungry, adding that about 9,000 cows were allowed into the Strip in the past two months. "There is a government decision that there will not be a humanitarian crisis in Gaza," Dror said. In recent months, Israel has reduced fuel supplies in the hope that Gaza's population would pressure the terrorists to stop the rocket fire. The Israeli human rights group Gisha wrote to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz this week, saying that due to fuel shortages, the Gaza power plant had been forced to halve its output from 80 to 40 megawatts and asking him to order the immediate lifting of sanctions. The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Israel and the Palestinians to respect international law and stop harming civilians. Christoph Harnisch, head of the organization's delegation to Israel and the Palestinian territories, said in a statement he was "in daily contact with the Israeli army and Palestinian armed factions in an effort to persuade them to respect the civilian population." Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council will hold an emergency meeting next week to examine whether Israel is committing abuses in the Palestinian territories, officials said Friday. The special session of the 47-member council was called after a petition was submitted by Syria and Pakistan, on behalf of Arab and Islamic countries, according to a UN memo obtained by The Associated Press. The move, which was supported by 20 other countries, came as Israel sealed all border crossings with the Gaza Strip and pressed ahead with the military campaign against Gaza terrorists. The council session, scheduled for Wednesday, will "consider and take action on human rights violations emanating from Israeli military incursions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including the recent ones in occupied Gaza and the West Bank town of Nablus," the memo said. Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva expressed disappointment. "I don't think that this is very helpful now for the peace process in the Middle East," Itzhak Levanon said. The council, which lacks enforcement powers, was created in March 2006 to replace the widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission. The new body has suffered from similar criticism, including that it spends an excessive amount of time focusing on Israel, which it has denounced in a series of resolutions. The US Senate voted in September to cut off funding to the council, accusing it of bias.