17 January 2009 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the news that Israel will halt its three-week military offensive in Gaza, and stressed that the immediate priority now is to ensure humanitarian access for the 1.5 million people living in the Strip.
“I am relieved that the Israeli Government has decided to cease hostilities as of midnight GMT,” Mr. Ban said in a statement issued in Beirut, the latest stop on a diplomatic mission to the region.
The Secretary-General, who yesterday called on Israel to unilaterally declare a ceasefire, added that “Hamas must stop firing rockets now.”
He stated that the Israeli ceasefire should be the first step toward establishing a durable and sustainable ceasefire leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, as called for by Security Council resolution 1860.
He also stressed that urgent humanitarian access for the people of Gaza is the immediate priority, adding that the UN is ready to act.
Three weeks of violence have already claimed over 1,000 lives, including many women and children, and wounded over 5,000, in addition to causing widespread destruction and tremendous suffering for the residents of Gaza.
Earlier today, in an address to the Lebanese National Assembly, Mr. Ban had again urged an immediate ceasefire, calling on both sides to first stop the fighting and to then work out the details in a bid to halt what he called an “unprecedented” level of violence over the past 22 days.
“Both sides must first stop the fighting now. We cannot wait for all the details, the mechanisms, to be conclusively negotiated and agreed, while civilians continue to be traumatized, injured and killed,” he stated.
The UN chief condemned as “outrageous” today's strike by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on a UN-run school in Gaza – the third incident of its kind, despite Israeli assurances given to him just days ago after the shelling of the UN compound in Gaza that the world body's premises would be fully respected.
“I strongly demand a thorough investigation into these incidents, and the punishment of those who are responsible for these appalling acts,” he told a news conference in the Lebanese capital.
Over a week ago, Israeli shelling near a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) killed 40 people and injured more than 100. Israel said it was returning fire from the area of the school but UN officials stressed there were no Hamas or other militants inside the school.
Mr. Ban arrived in Beirut as part of his ongoing efforts to help find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, which began on 27 December when Israel launched a military operation in Gaza with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks against Israel.
He has already met with officials in Cairo, Amman, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Ankara, and will continue his visit with stops in Damascus and Sharm el-Sheikh, where he will attend a summit to be convened by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the Gaza situation. He will also visit Kuwait to attend the Arab Economic Summit meeting.
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