UN official: Press Hamas to stop Kassams

Undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs tours Sderot, says "no justification" for Kassam fire at civilians.

john holmes 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
john holmes 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
There is no justification for the Palestinian rocket fire against Israelis living on the Gaza border, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told The Jerusalem Post. "We do not talk with Hamas. If I had I would have said, 'the first thing you need to do is stop firing the rockets,'" said Holmes. He arrived in Israel on Thursday for a five-day trip, his first since taking office in January 2007. Already he has issued harsh statements against the suffering of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. On Friday he toured Gaza to see firsthand the impact of the Israeli embargo of goods to the Strip. Sunday, he visited the shell-shocked city of Sderot, a day when a rocket narrowly missed landing on a nursery school and another one struck a home. He took time to listen to residents, some in tears, who told their personal stories of anguish. A local man lifted his shirt and showed Holmes a shrapnel wound on his belly as a woman told him how she had miscarried after going into shock when a Kassam rocket landed near her. The woman added that a teenage daughter of hers had attempted to cut her wrists after one rocket attack. Holmes said he felt incredibly sorry for the people of Sderot, noting the traumatic psychological effects the attacks have had on children. Similarly, when he listened to Gaza residents on Friday, he spoke of his deep sympathy for their plight and described what he saw there as "grim and miserable." Holmes called on Israel to increase the flow of goods into Gaza, which has been limited to humanitarian aid since Hamas violently took over the area in June 2007 and was recently restricted even further in response to continued rocket attacks. In neither case, Holmes said, were the Palestinian rockets or the Israeli closure of Gaza helping the situation on the ground. "It is perfectly possible for Israel to allow more goods in," said Holmes as he spoke with the Post on Saturday night. "The transfer of goods is caught up with the issue of rockets. They are indiscriminate, civilians are the only likely victims, and therefore that is completely unacceptable," said Holmes. Then he paused and asked, "But do those rockets justify what is happening to the population in Gaza? I do not think they do. The people who are suffering, half of whom are children, are not the people who decided to fire the rockets." His role here, he told the Post, is limited given that the ultimate solution is a political one. "At the end of the day, the only thing that will make a lasting difference is a peace settlement," he told reporters in Sderot on Sunday. "You can't stop these problems militarily. They have to be solved through negotiations." Also visiting Sderot Sunday was US Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona. He voiced his support for the residents and also commended the killing of Hizbullah mastermind Imad Mughniyeh, who was targeted in a car explosion last Tuesday in Damascus by unknown attackers. "Whoever took this terrorist out sent a message that there is a price they have to pay," he said. "I know some say this is a rallying cry for the terrorists. But they don't need a rallying cry. They already created the problem. There's no reason not to go after their leaders with everything we have." Regarding sanctions on Egypt to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza, Kyl said it was still too early to tell if they were helping. "The US congress has put limitations on the money that the Congress sends to Egypt, limitations which require Egypt to take a stronger position to stop the smuggling. Clearly the smuggling hasn't stopped," he said. AP contributed to this report.