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Ban Ki-moon in Gaza: 'The UN will always be with you'

June 28, 2016 12:40 P.M. (Updated: June 29, 2016 11:08 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon arrived in Gaza City Tuesday morning, starting off his trip throughout the besieged coastal enclave with a speech to UN staff, according to the UN secretary-general's spokesperson.

Ban visited the UNRWA-run al-Zaytoun school, where he spoke to staff and students, condemning Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip that “suffocates its people, stifles its economy, and impedes construction.”

"It is a collective punishment for which there must be accountability," he said, noting that some 70 percent of Gaza's population is in need of humanitarian assistance, and "over half of Gaza’s youth have little to no job prospects or horizons of hope."

"This situation cannot continue. It feeds anger and despair. It increases the danger of a new escalation of hostilities, which can only bring further suffering to the people of Gaza."

"We need to speak openly of the challenges and the unacceptable difficulties that the people of Gaza face. Of the humiliation of the occupation and the closures, but also of the division between Gaza and the West Bank."

Ban stressed the importance of achieving a united Gaza and West Bank under a single, democratic, and legitimate government, adding that he stands with the people of Gaza, telling them that “the UN will always be with you.”

The Commissioner-General for UNRWA Pierre Krahenbuhl
accompanied Ban on the trip, saying their visit “comes at a time of deep despair in Gaza” citing a bleak political horizon, no freedom of movement, and extreme joblessness. “The world needs to pay far more attention,” he said.

The pair are also set to visit a center for reconstruction works in the Gaza Strip run by the UN, where they will meet with more UN officials and employees before Ban speaks at a news conference in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City before leaving the coastal area.

Senior Hamas official and Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament Ahmad Bahar released a statement Tuesday, urging Ban and the UN to “work seriously” towards ending the decade-long siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.

Bahar criticized Ban's visit as “part of the ongoing efforts to resume negotiations to reach a compromise that serves occupation and to contain the Al-Aqsa Intifada,” referring to the ongoing French-led peace efforts which numerous Palestinian political factions, including Hamas, have criticized as a monopolistic effort by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to push their own motivations and agenda.

Slamming the UN, Bahar added that the international organization has “remained silent towards the Gaza siege crime for ten years” by trying to “treat the victim and the executioner evenly.”

Secretary-General Ban made a speech at a press conference Monday, following a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, where he called on Israelis and Palestinians to take “concrete steps” towards peace.

In addition to denouncing the deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv earlier this month, Ban slammed the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, adding that “nearly 50 years of occupation has had a devastating impact on Palestinian lives, undermining the belief in a peaceful resolution to this conflict.”

Ban mentioned an upcoming “balanced and fair report” by the the Middle East Quartet, which is expected to form a basis for the ongoing French-led peace initiative to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His visit came on the heals of an agreement reached between Israel and Turkey re-establishing diplomatic normalization between the two states, which notably included Turkey conceding on pressuring Israel to lift its near-decade long siege on the Gaza Strip in spite of years of warnings. However Israel did agree to allow Turkey to begin delivering humanitarian aid and initiate infrastructural projects for the territory.

The deal was met with outrage by many who were disappointed that Turkey had given up on pushing for a complete end to the blockade on the Gaza Strip, however Hamas, the de-facto leaders of the enclave welcomed the deal.
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