21 January 2009Having just returned from Gaza, where he saw first-hand the suffering and destruction wrought by Israel’s three-week military offensive, including the still-smouldering ruins of a shelled United Nations compound, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged a “massive” international effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. “The violence, destruction and suffering before us have been a mark of collective political failure,” Mr. Ban told a meeting of the Security Council, in a statement read out on his behalf by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe. “We must do more,” he stated. “Nothing short of a massive international effort is now required to support, and insist on, a resolution of this conflict.”Although present at the meeting, Mr. Ban was unable to deliver the briefing, having lost his voice at the end of a whirlwind diplomatic mission that also took the UN chief to Cairo, Amman, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Ankara, Beirut, Damascus and Sharm el-Sheik.“A true end to violence, and lasting security for both Palestinians and Israelis, will only come through a just and comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict,” the Secretary-General stressed, adding that central to this effort is implementation of Security Council resolutions and the framework provided by the Arab Peace Initiative. “We do not need new plans and processes. We have the tools we need. We need only political will and action,” he stated.The offensive, which Israel launched on 27 December with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks, claimed over 1,300 lives, some 400 of them children, and wounded more than 5,450. The bombing and shelling also caused widespread destruction and suffering for Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, who were already in dire need of basic necessities due to Israel’s closure of border crossings.The fighting has ended with declarations of unilateral ceasefires and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. While this offers a much-need respite for suffering civilians, Mr. Ban cautioned that conditions are still “fragile” and much more remains to be done on both the diplomatic and humanitarian fronts. He added that for many in Gaza, this also remains an hour of despair, grief and desperate need. “They were caught throughout this crisis between Hamas’ unacceptable and irresponsible actions and Israel’s blockade and use of excessive and disproportionate military force.”Mr. Ban has dispatched the UN’s top humanitarian official to assess the needs on the ground following the three-week offensive. John Holmes will lead a humanitarian needs assessment team into Gaza tomorrow, together with the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry. Soon after, the UN intends to launch a Flash Humanitarian Appeal.The Secretary-General said he assured the people of Gaza that the UN will work “urgently and diligently” to provide aid and to start the reconstruction and recovery process. He noted that immediate and increased access to Gaza is key to those efforts.He added that for any sustainable political progress to occur, and for Gaza to properly recover and rebuild, Palestinians must face the challenge of reconciliation. In both Gaza and Ramallah, the UN chief appealed for Palestinians to overcome divisions and work to restore one Palestinian government within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority under President Abbas.“I have stated clearly that the United Nations will work with a united Palestinian government encompassing Gaza and the West Bank.”Following the meeting, the Council issued a press statement welcoming the Gaza ceasefire and the efforts of international and regional partners, especially the Egyptian initiative, in helping to bring an end to the fighting.Read out by Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert of France, which holds the rotating presidency this month, the statement stressed the need for Resolution 1860, passed earlier this month, to be fully implemented, “in particular for the ceasefire to be durable and fully respected by all parties, for the provision of arrangements and guarantees to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition to Gaza, and to ensure the sustained reopening of the crossing points.”The 15-member body reiterated their “grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and stressed the need for unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian aid throughout Gaza,” drawing attention to the “excellent work” in the area being carried out under very difficult circumstances by UN agencies, in particular the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).The Council also underscored the importance of intra-Palestinian reconciliation, and stressed that only a two-state solution can bring peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.