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Shoes thrown at UN chief's convoy in Gaza

Feb. 2, 2012 12:23 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 3, 2012 1:53 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Dozens of people threw shoes and stones at UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's convoy as it entered the Gaza Strip on Thursday, Ma'an's correspondent said.

No one was injured during the hostile welcome and the vehicles, which crossed into the Hamas-ruled territory from southern Israel, pushed through the crowd and sped away.

"I thank the people of Gaza for the warm welcome," he told a news conference, provoking laughter among local journalists. "I met many people who were waiting for me at the entrance."

He went to say that he had sympathy for the complaints of people in Gaza: "I fully share their concern and frustration," he said. "This is why I am here for the third time. This is a very dire economic, social, humanitarian problem."

Ban again called on Israel to lift all restrictions on the Gaza Strip and urged Israel and the Palestinians to keep the peace process alive.

He is visiting the region to try to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Many of those who protested as the UN convoy passed were family members of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They hit the vehicles with signs bearing slogans accusing Ban of bias towards Israel and of refusing to meet the relatives of Palestinian prisoners.

A spokesman for deportees from the Israeli siege of Bethlehem's Nativity church in 2002 called on Ban to defend the rights of the Palestinian people, including detainees and deportees.

A number of Gazans whose homes were destroyed in Israel's war on the coastal enclave in 2008 held up signs reading "Gaza is living in darkness," and "Save the children of Gaza," Ma'an's correspondent said.

About 5,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails and securing their release is a highly emotive issue in Palestinian society.

Around 40 percent of Palestinian men living in the occupied territories have been detained by Israel at some point in their lives.

Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2007, updating a previous policy of closure on the coastal enclave.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has called the blockade 'a collective punishment in clear violation of international humanitarian law' and urged the international community 'to ensure that repeated appeals by States and international organizations to lift the closure are finally heeded.'

Reuters contributed to this report
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