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World : UN Secretary General Embarks On Middle East Tour To Defuse Gaza Tensions

By Manik Mehta

UNITED NATIONS (New York), July 22 (Bernama) — Currently on a tour of a number of Middle Eastern countries, United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is on a mission to defuse the Gaza tensions which, many fear, could escalate into a full-fledged war and possibly draw other countries in the region into the conflict.

Speaking to journalists, Rwanda’s ambassador Eugene Richard Gasana – Rwanda has the UN Security Council (UNSC) presidency for July on a rotation basis – described the late-night closed-door UNSC meeting Sunday on the Gaza situation as a “sober” one, given the seriousness of the situation.

Ban made an urgent appeal to the parties involved in the Gaza conflict for an immediate ceasefire; the Secretary General has met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha.

Qatar was the first leg of a Middle East tour which is aimed at stopping the violent outbreak of the conflict.

According to Gasan, the UNSC members, echoing Ban’s appeal, had called for an immediate ceasefire and for respecting international humanitarian laws, including guaranteeing protection of innocent civilians caught in the fire or directly affected in the conflict.

The UNSC, which has 15 members, including the five permanent ones, underscored the desperate need for alleviating the humanitarian situation, including enforcing pause in the exchange of fire to allow access to volunteers providing humanitarian relief assistance.

Many UN diplomats say that the five-hour truce brokered a few days back by Robert Serry, the Secretary General’s special coordinator on the Middle East peace process, could serve as basis for implementing such a pause in the future.

Posing with Qatar’s foreign minister Khaled al-Attiyaat at Sunday’s press conference, Ban had said that in the course of travels in the region, he would continue to press for an immediate ceasefire, seeking an immediate end of Israel’s military operation in Gaza and the firing of rockets by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Ban again urged all the sides in the conflict to adhere to international humanitarian law and end the ongoing cycle of violence.

The Secretary General condemned the “atrocious action” killing dozens of more civilians, including children, in Israeli strikes in the Shejaiyah district of Gaza.

He called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint and to do much more for civilian protection.

According to UN sources who based their assessment on media reports, at least 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli defence forces personnel were killed Sunday in what UN sources describe as the “bloodiest fight” since the offensive started nearly a fortnight back.

There is also an alarming rise in the number of displaced persons.

The UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) reports that some 81,000 displaced people had been given accommodated at 61 UNRWA’s shelters in Gaza.

UNRWA’s sources say that the number of refugees at its shelters was far higher than the number of those who sought refuge five years ago.

UN senior officials, including Ban himself, who have emphasised in the past that the bloodshed and insecurity could be avoided by addressing and resolving the “root causes” of the conflict, have urged the fighting sides to resume their talks on a two-state solution.

“Israelis, but also Palestinians, need to feel a sense of security,” Ban was quoted as saying at a joint press conference on Sunday, adding that “Palestinians, but also Israelis, need to see a horizon of hope”.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Feltman, UN’s political chief, has been telling journalists that the Secretary General was studying a request from Palestinian President Abbas suggesting that Palestine be placed under a UN-administered international protection system.

Ban’s stopovers on his current tour include Kuwait, Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman before he returns to the UN headquarters in New York by the end of the week, his spokesperson said.

Further additions or changes to his itinerary are not ruled out.

— BERNAMA

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