Warmly welcoming the ceasefire declared between Israel and Hamas just hours before, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this afternoon told the Security Council via video link from Tel Aviv, Israel, that it was now critical to address underlying causes in order to keep the violence, and the great suffering it caused civilians, from flaring up again.
"I commend the parties for stepping back from the brink, and I commend President [Mohamed] Morsy of Egypt for his exceptional leadership," said Mr. Ban, who informed the 15-member body he had been in the region for the past three days to help bring about a halt to the violence that had escalated sharply on 14 November.
"Our focus now must be on ensuring the ceasefire holds and that all those in need in Gaza - and there are many - receive the humanitarian assistance they need," he said. Stressing that his priority was protection of civilians, he said that he met for that purpose with leaders in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and had last spoken to Mohamed Morsy just before the ceasefire was declared.
Adding up the toll of innocent people that had been killed and injured from the more than 1,450 rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, some reaching the outskirts of Jerusalem, and a bus bombing in Tel Aviv earlier today, as well as Israeli airstrikes on that number of targets - 1,450 - in Gaza, he said, "It is unacceptable for citizens on both sides to permanently live in fear of the next strike. Put simply, all parties must respect international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of all civilians, at all times," he added.
He said that since 14 November, the rocket fire had resulted in the deaths of four Israeli civilians and one soldier, with more than 139 Palestinians killed, including over 70 civilians, according to the United Nations team in Gaza.
He added that hundreds had been injured on both sides, with some 10,000 displaced in Gaza, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which had emphasized the need for greater support for its programmes. "I am asking our emergency and humanitarian teams to be prepared to do whatever they can to alleviate the suffering," he said.
The crisis, he said, underscored that the status quo was unsustainable and that long-term solutions must be found to the problem of Gaza and for Palestinians as a whole. Once calm was fully restored, negotiations must address the underlying issues, including a full opening of the crossings into Gaza, Palestinian reconciliation and an end to weapons smuggling, he maintained.
For that purpose, he said, he planned to keep in touch with world leaders and had asked his special Coordinator Robert Serry to remain in Cairo. "It is clear that the international community must speak with one voice to prevent a return to violence," he stressed, emphasizing, however, that only a comprehensive, just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians would bring lasting security to all.
The meeting began at 3:46 p.m. and ended at 4:03 p.m.