Khan Younis, Gaza, 21 March 2010 – Secretary-General's statement/encounter with representatives of the media, business and civil society
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It's a great pleasure to meet you and I am humbled to visit Khan Younis this time.
I am visiting Gaza fifteen months after my last visit last year. I thank Gazans and the business and civil society leaders who I have met today.
I have come back to Gaza to express my solidarity to the people of Gaza. I know this is a very difficult challenge for you but I appreciate all Gazans who are striving to provide for their families amid unacceptable, unsustainable conditions. Every day they show heroism and quiet courage and this is an inspiration and I thank and support them.
We are meeting here in Khan Younis because for nearly three years, the United Nations has not been able to complete this housing project. I have seen still many damaged houses and it is quiet distressing for me to see all damage still not being able to be reconstructed.
However, I am pleased to tell you that the Israeli government has recently approved a United Nations request to carry on this humanitarian project. This humanitarian project will include 150 housing units in Khan Younis. We will also build a flour mill and several sewage treatments and UNRWA school containers and we will bring in more classes and aluminium for windows and I am going to work and ask the Israeli authorities to do more.
While I believe that this is a positive welcome step, I believe again we need far, far, much more. This is like a drop in a bucket of water.
I have repeatedly made it quite clear to Israel's leaders that the Israeli policy of closure is not sustainable and it is wrong. It causes unacceptable suffering of human beings and particularly to people and population in Gaza. I am also very saddened that half of the population who under the age of 18 are suffering the most.
The policy is also counter-productive. It prevents legitimate commerce and encourages smuggling. It undercuts moderates and empowers extremists.
My message to the people of Gaza is this: The United Nations will stand with you through this ordeal. UNRWA and all other United Nations agencies will continue to deliver humanitarian assistance and help you rebuild. That is the commitment of the United Nations and that is my commitment as the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
I urge all Gazans to choose the path of non-violence, Palestinian unity, and international legitimacy, those principles are reflected in the commitments of the PLO.
I also appeal for a prisoner exchange so that Palestinian prisoners and the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit can be released. This issue can and should be resolved now.
I thank again the Gazans who have shared their plight with me today. I leave these Gazan citizens determined to do much, much more to ease your suffering and I will also do my best to find a way to resume talks aimed at a just and overdue resolution of this conflict.
I am coming from Moscow, after attending the Quartet meeting. The Quartet has reaffirmed to support the cause of the Palestinians and encourage Palestinian unity and support a viable Palestinian state that lives in peace and security side by side with Israel and other neighbouring countries. The United Nations will continue to stand with you and continue to support you so that you can overcome all these human suffering.
Thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the Israeli siege has entered its 11th day last week, are we going to wait another 1000 days until this siege is lifted?
SG: It's a sad reality. This occupation must end. The quartet again has reaffirmed that the end goal of this final settlement of all the core issues should bring an end to occupation. All these core issues, refugees and borders and peace issues, security, all should be addressed. The Israeli and Palestinian authorities will now soon launch proximity talks and I hope through these proximity talks they will begin to discuss all the core issues and I believe that these proximity talks, indirect talks, should be lead to direct negotiations between the two parties.
Q: You visited Gaza a year ago, you called to lift the siege, but right now Israel still imposes the siege, how do you feel that the Israelis are still ignoring your demands on the ground in reality?
SG: Again it is a sad a reality that the Palestinian people are living in very difficult circumstances, where your normal lives are restricted by closures, security checks and all these earth mounds and roadblocks. The United Nations, myself and the members of the Quartet and the international community have been urging the Israeli authorities to ease these restrictions and open crossings. The more the restrictions it will only end up in encouraging extremists and violence, it will not be sustainable, that's what I have been urging and I will continue to urge the Israeli authorities.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, the Israeli newspapers today said that Netanyahu is going to Washington but he has promised to ease off the Gaza blockade, are you aware of any Israeli intentions, promises, decisions to ease off the Gaza blockade?
SG: I know that Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to have a meeting with President Obama and the US Administration and right after this visit to Gaza I am going to have a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and I will discuss this matter and I will urge again Prime Minister Netanyahu to ease all these restrictions. Yesterday I visited the West Bank and I was lead by Prime Minister Fayyad to Maysoun. I was very much saddened to see in Area C that people's life has been severely restricted. All these restrictions should be eased.
Q: Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, while you were in the West Bank yesterday the Israelis killed a Palestinian child, do you condemn the Israeli killing of a Palestinian child in the West Bank as well as condemning the Israeli strike in Gaza? And will you ask Barak when you meet him after Gaza to stop all kind of military actions against Palestinians?
SG: I issued a statement yesterday after having heard that report. I condemned all these incidents, I expressed most profound condolences, at the same time I condemned again strongly the rocket firing against Israelis. All this violence must end, must stop. I know that there are differences of opinions between the parties all these should be resolved through dialogue in a peaceful manner and they all should calm down and restrain from taking any violent actions.
Q: You have expressed that you are deeply distressed and concerned by the reports of killings of teenagers in the West Bank, will you condemn those killings Secretary-General?
SG: Any violent action which ends in the killing of the population will be condemned. I again urge all Palestinians and Israelis to refrain from resorting to violence and the security forces in dealing with the peaceful expression of their views of the citizens should make utmost efforts to protect the lives of the population and particularly civilians.
Q: Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the international community in March 2009 pledged billions of aid to reconstruct the Gaza Strip following the war, you have just stated that Israel has recently approved small scale construction in Gaza, what prevents the reconstruction of the internal Gaza Strip, while thousands of Palestinian refugees are still displaced?
SG: That is exactly what I have been working…and very hard… and urging Israeli authorities to ease crossings so that all humanitarian materials can be shipped into Gaza so that this reconstruction can continue. It is true that there was a lot of financial support pledged during last year's Sharm El Sheikh meeting and as I am going to participate in the league of Arab States Summit meeting later this week I will again discuss this matter with Arab leaders and the major donors of the international community to deliver their commitment.
Q: I think that many Gazans will think that while they heard all this fourteen months ago when you were last here, why should they think that Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu are going to start listening to you, the UN now, when you meet him later today?
SG: The Quartet has made a very strong statement. This Quartet meeting has been, to my mind, most substantive and the strongest statement which we have ever made during the last two or three years. I sincerely hope that the parties concerned, particularly the Israeli authorities, will heed to these calls and appeals and the urging of the international community, particularly the Quartet. The Quartet has strongly supported and welcomed the proximity talks which will need to lead to direct negotiations. They must address all these core issues, borders, security, peace and refugees through their direct negotiations. The United Nations and the Quartet will continue to support and facilitate smooth proceedings of negotiations, that's what I am going to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I will meet Defence Minister Barak now and Prime Minister Netanyahu, as you know I had very good talks with President Shimon Peres last night. All these meetings have been very productive and I will continue to work with the Israeli government and other members of the international community. The most important thing, I will (inaudible) that the Israeli government should take very flexible conditions reflecting the views and aspirations of the Palestinian people and the wishes of the international community. Thank you.