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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

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Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, 18 January 2009 - Secretary-General's remarks at the Conference on Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Gaza

President Mubarak, Majesty, Excellencies,

I wish to thank President Mubarak for hosting us at this important meeting, and for the crucial role he is playing to resolve the crisis in Gaza. And I thank President Abbas for his presence as the leader of the Palestinian people in this grave hour.

Even after the announcement of a ceasefire by Israel, the situation on the ground is still volatile and dangerous. Clashes, rockets and IDF actions have continued. For the sake of the people of Gaza, I urge in the strongest possible terms Hamas to stop firing rockets. As all of us had urged Israelis to stop its offensive, those who haveinfluence on Hamas must press them now to stop rocket-firing.

I discussed the importance of this measure with President Assad earlier today in Damascus. I understand that Syria and Turkey's efforts are bearing fruit, and I am encouraged by President Gul's remarks.

For its part, I urge Israel in the strongest possible terms to show utmost restraint and withdraw its troops from Gaza in the coming days.

I look to President Mubarak to continue his vital efforts to seek understandings and mechanisms to ensure that a durable and sustainable ceasefire is quickly put in place.

And I look to the leaders assembled here, and to all Arab and international leaders, to come together to prevent further violence, help the people of Gaza in this hour of desperate need, and restore stability.

I also feel determination, shared by all United Nations staff members, to do all possible to ensure that immediate steps are taken to bring relief to the people of Gaza, and to embark without delay on the process of recovery, rebuilding and reconstruction.

I know full well that this will not replace the loss of loved ones, family, neighbors and colleagues. But it will be a step towards a better, safer, and more hopeful future.

Hundreds of thousands of people need assistance now. I expect all parties to show restraint, and to fully facilitate urgent help by the United Nations to civilians. If fighting resumes, if crossings are closed, or if the UN is hit by further attacks, it is the people of Gaza who will suffer. This must not happen.

I will dispatch early this week a high-level humanitarian and early recovery assessment mission to Gaza. Within ten days of this mission, I will launch a Flash Humanitarian Appeal. And within three weeks, I will be able to present an assessment report on early recovery and essential repairs. I urge major donor countries to take part and contribute generously.

This can be presented at the envisaged conference in Cairo, and feed into the work of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee thereafter.

Already, I have directed UN staff to begin the assessment process based on available information from within Gaza itself and work with all UN agencies and other partners in this effort.

We need to cater for the more than 5000 sick and wounded in Gaza, provide urgent food assistance, remove rubble, unexploded ordnance and possibly landmines, provide shelter of Gazans whose homes have been destroyed, and critically increase electricity supplies for households and for the water and sanitation system.

Electricity is a lifeline for the people of Gaza as is the provision of fuel and cash.

The United Nations and its partners stand ready to provide assistance quickly. The more than 10,000 Palestinian national staff will be a backbone of these efforts.

I salute their courageous and tireless efforts over the past three weeks – they deserve our utmost respect.

I appeal to all parties to refrain from any resumption of hostilities, including against UN staff and premises, and to guarantee conditions for the safe, rapid and unimpeded delivery of aid.

As the UN shoulders its full responsibilities in Gaza for humanitarian assistance, early recovery and reconstruction, I intend to consult closely with key partners: with Egypt and Arab countries, with Norway as the Chair of the AHLC, with Turkey, and with European, Russian and US leaders as members of the Quartet – including the new administration of President Obama.

We need to bring together these collective efforts in one common endeavour to support a sustainable ceasefire.

We all know that relief and reconstruction are an immediate priority, but more is needed. Indeed, we have rebuilt Gaza before.

The key challenge before the leaders gathered here today is to do all possible to make sure that this tragedy does not occur again.

We also need a functioning system for all the crossings in and out of Gaza, a system that will immediately allow full access for humanitarian goods and personnel.

The framework for the crossings must also ensure that we return, sooner rather than later, to the conditions reached in the Agreement on Movement and Access. Palestinians must not subsist on relief.

For such a framework to succeed, the Palestinians themselves must face the challenge of reconciliation, and work to achieve a unified government under the leadership of President Abbas within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority. I call on all Arab leaders to unite and support this endeavor. We cannot rebuild Gaza without Palestinian unity.

A true end to violence, and lasting security for both Palestinians and Israelis, will only come through a just and comprehensive settlement to the long-festering Arab-Israeli conflict.

The violence and suffering is a mark of political failure. The efforts of the past have not proved sufficient to address the underlying conflict.

The occupation that began in 1967 must end. There must be an end to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This effort must have at its centre the implementation of Security Council resolutions and the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative.

The parties must return to negotiations. But more than that: there must be a massive and unprecedented effort of the community to support this process, and insist, finally, that it succeeds.

Thank you.