Ban ‘Appalled’ by Gaza’s Damage; Demands Israel Be Held Accountable

January 20th, 2009 - by admin

BBC News & Al Jazeera & The London Telegraph – 2009-01-20 21:42:59

• At least 1,300 people killed, including more than 400 children and more than 100 women
• At least 5,300 Palestinians injured, including nearly 1,900 children and 800 women
• At least 13 Israelis killed, including three civilians. Several of the Israeli combat deaths were the result of “friendly fire.”
• At least 100,000 people forced from their homes
• More than 4,000 buildings destroyed in Gaza, more than 20,000 severely damaged
• 50,000 Gazans homeless and 400,000 without running water

Ban ‘Appalled’ by Gaza’s Damage
BBC News

GAZA CITY (January 20, 2009) — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is appalled by Israeli attacks on a UN compound in Gaza after seeing the destruction for himself. Mr Ban said that those responsible should be held accountable and demanded a “full investigation” through proper judiciary systems.

He was speaking in front of the smouldering remains of the UN food warehouse destroyed by Israeli shells. He said he would do all he could to help the population of Gaza.

Mr Ban is the first international leader to visit Gaza for several years, entering through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing and driving through the bomb-damaged northern suburbs to Gaza City. He later visited the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which has been one of the main targets of Palestinian rocket attacks in recent years.

He described the rockets as indiscriminate weapons and said the attacks by Hamas are violations of basic humanitarian law. However, he also called on Israel to end its blockade of Gaza, saying the embargo only strengthens Hamas by fuelling desperation in the impoverished enclave.

‘Outrageous Attack’
Appearing stern and at times angry, Mr Ban called the attacks on Gaza “outrageous” and demanded guarantees that it would never happen again. “I have protested many times. I am today protesting again in the strongest terms. I have asked (for a) full investigation and (to) make those responsible people accountable,” he said. “I am just appalled. I am not able to describe how I am feeling. This was an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack against the United Nations.”

Israeli shells hit the UN headquarters as well as two UN schools during the recent three-week offensive. The headquarters were badly damaged and nearly 40 people were killed near one of the schools. Israel said militants used the UN buildings as cover to launch attacks, but the military has launched its own investigation.

As Mr Ban viewed the damage, Hamas held a victory rally near the destroyed parliament building in Gaza City.

The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool, in Gaza City, says the turnout was low, an indication perhaps that Gaza’s population is struggling to see how any side can consider this a victory.

Thousands Homeless
Thousands of Gazans have been left homeless by the Israeli offensive and Palestinian officials warned it could cost $1.9 billion to rebuild the territory.

Israeli troops are expected to complete their pull-out later, if the current ceasefire holds. Israeli political sources say the military aims to have withdrawn before Barack Obama’s inauguration as US president at 1700 GMT.

But there have been several violent incidents during the day.

The Israeli navy fired shells into Gaza in what it called a deterrent measure, and reports claimed that a mortar shell was later fired into Israel from Gaza. Two children were killed near Gaza City in an explosion of ordnance left behind by the Israeli army, according to Palestinian medical officials. And in the West Bank, an Israeli man was shot and seriously wounded while driving near the Kochav Hashachar settlement. A previously unknown group calling itself the al-Bashair Army told the Palestinian news agency, Maan, it had carried out the attack.

Earlier, the UN’s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, said hundreds of millions of dollars of aid would be needed immediately to help Gaza’s 1.4 million people. While 100,000 people had their water supply restored on Sunday, 400,000 still had no water, he said.

Separately, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimated that the overall physical damage so far amounted to about $1.9 billion (£1.4 billion). The UN has asked Israel to open Gaza’s borders to allow in construction materials, but so far only basic humanitarian supplies have been let in.

Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers meeting in Kuwait have failed to issue a statement on the Gaza situation because they disagreed over who was to blame for the conflict. Egypt said Hamas had invited the attacks, while Syria said Israel should be declared a terrorist entity.

Palestinian medical sources say at least 1,300 Palestinians were killed, nearly a third of them children, and 5,500 injured during the conflict. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were killed.


Ban Demands Probe into Gaza Attacks
Al Jazeera

In video
• Unearthing Gaza’s destruction
• Israel’s scorched earth tactics

(January 20, 2009) — Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, has demanded a “full investigation” into Israel’s bombing of a UN compound in Gaza City. Speaking during an official visit to the devastated territory on Tuesday, he condemned the attack on the UN complex as “outrageous” and “totally unacceptable”.

“It is particularly significant for a secretary-general of the UN to stand in front of this bomb site of the UN compound,” he said. “I am just appalled and not able to describe how I am feeling having seen this … it’s an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack against the UN. I have protested many times, and I protest again in the strongest terms.”

Ban called for a “full investigation” into the incident to make those responsible for the attack “accountable”. He also announced he was sending a high-level delegation to oversee humanitarian support for Gazans and assist with the rebuilding effort following Israel’s three-week offensive.

Ban is the highest-ranking official to visit Gaza since Israel and Hamas declared separate, unilateral ceasefires on Sunday.

‘Shocking’ Devastation
Ban stressed “the UN and the international community will support and help you [Gazans] to overcome” the devastation, which he described as “shocking and alarming”. While Ban reiterated his condemnation of Israel’s “excessive use of force”, he was careful to underline that he believes rocket attacks on Israel by Gazan fighters are also “unacceptable”.

Israel had said the aim of its operations in Gaza was to cripple Hamas’s ability to launch rockets into the south of the country.

Ban urged Palestinians factions to unite to allow the international community, including the UN, to help broker a lasting peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. However, while offering to do “all [he] can as secretary-general of the UN to help in this time of need”, Ban is not expected to meet Hamas officials during this visit.

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Gaza, said because much of the international community, including the US and the European Union, regard Hamas as a “terrorist organisation”, it would be political difficult for the UN chief to hold direct talks with Hamas officials.

Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006 which were internationally recognised as being both fair and free. Rebuilding Gaza’s devastated infrastructure is expected to cost billions of US dollars.

Without Supplies
John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, says hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency aid supplies will be needed for the people of Gaza.

Although water supplies were restored to many Gazan homes as of Sunday, 400,000 were still without running water, Holmes said. Electricity in Gaza is available for less than half the day and around 100,000 people have been left homeless by the war. Scores of bodies have been discovered in the rubble of destroyed buildings since both sides declared unilateral ceasefires on Sunday.

Palestinians returning to their neighbourhoods have begun to unearth the true scale of destruction. Mohyeldin reported that the World Health Organisation had issued a warning of an outbreak of disease as weeks-old bodies remain unburied and sewage continues to flow in many areas because of the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure.

The deposed Hamas-led government in Gaza estimates that more than 5,000 buildings were completely destroyed and another 20,000 damaged or partially destroyed in the fighting.

Despite the three-week Israeli onslaught that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and destroyed thousands of buildings, Hamas and other Palestinian factions have claimed victory in the fighting.

Following his visit to Gaza, the UN chief also visited the southern Israeli town of Sderot – one of the main targets for Palestinian rocket-launching squads based in Gaza. Ban said he was “totally committed to Israel securing its rightful place as a nation within secure and recognised borders” and called for the current ceasefires to be turned into a durable truce “respected fully by all parties concerned”.

Ban Ki-moon Demands Israel Be Held
‘Accountable’ for Attack on UN

Tim Butcher / The Telegraph of London

GAZA CITY (20 January 2009) — Standing in front of the UN compound during a visit to the shattered Palestinian territory, a visibly angry Mr Ban said that he was “heartbroken” by the devastation he witnessed and appalled by the Israeli attack on the UN facility.

“It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack on the United Nations,” Mr Ban said, the warehouse still smouldering behind him. “There must be a full investigation, a full explanation to make sure it never happens again. There should be accountability through a proper judiciary system. I have protested many times. I am today protesting again in the strongest terms. I have asked [for a] full investigation and [to] make those responsible people accountable.”

Israel has claimed it attacked the coumpound because militants were firing rockets from inside. The claim was dismissed as “nonsense” by John Ging, the chief UN official in Gaza.

The compound was hit on Jan 15 by three shells containing white phosphorus, an agent used to create a smoke screen but which burns skin on contact. The resulting fire burnt aid supplies awaiting distribution.

The controversial substance is banned from use in any built-up civilian area under the conventions of war. The smoke it produces cannot be put out with water and UN staff at the Gaza City facility did not have the sand required to quell the blaze.

Mr Ban used the ceasefire begun by Israel unilaterally on Sunday and then accepted by Gaza’s Hamas rulers to become the first world leader to visit the Gaza Strip for several years. He spent just a few hours inside Gaza and after witnessing for himself the extent of some of the Israeli attacks during Operation Cast Lead he criticised Israel for using excessive force. “I have seen only a fraction of the destruction,” he said. “This is shocking and alarming. These are heartbreaking scenes I have seen and I am deeply grieved by what I have seen today.”

For reasons of diplomatic balance Mr Ban also condemned Palestinian militants for repeatedly firing rockets into Israel.

Thirteen Israelis died during the three-week conflict. With the bodies of some of the Palestinians killed yet to be recovered from the rubble, the death toll for Gazans is believed to be more than 1,350, a ratio of more than a 100 Palestinians killed for each Israeli.

Israeli ground forces continued their withdrawal from Gaza, pulling back across the border with Israel.

There were unconfirmed reports that at least five mortars or rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. Hamas has announced its own week-long ceasefire although this does not apply to other militant factions inside Gaza. The Islamist group staged a series of “victory” rallies across the Gaza Strip although they were on a relatively small scale, each attended by no more than a few hundred people. Palestinians are worried that any large gathering of Hamas members could be attacked by Israeli forces.

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