UNITED NATIONS – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reinforced the Security Council's call for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza war on Monday and demanded that Israel and Hamas end the violence "in the name of humanity."
The U.N. chief accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal of being irresponsible and "morally wrong" for letting their people get killed in the conflict. He urged them to demonstrate "political will" and "compassionate leadership" to end the suffering of war-weary citizens.
"Gaza is in critical condition" after pummeling by Israeli forces that has killed helpless civilians and raised "serious questions about proportionality," he told reporters.
The war, now in its 21st day, has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Israel has lost 43 soldiers, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, according to the Israeli military.
Ban said there must be accountability and justice for actions committed by all sides. He stressed that as an occupying power Israel has "an international legal obligation to protect civilians" and called on its government to do "vastly more" to ensure the safety of U.N. sites where more than 173,000 Gazans have sought refuge.
The secretary-general said he had a long talk with Netanyahu on Monday morning and urged the Israeli leader to accept a cease-fire, and then address the root causes of the conflict. He said he has been in indirect contact with Mashaal through Qatar and Turkey which have good relations with Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza.
The Security Council issued its strongest statement yet on the Gaza war at an emergency meeting just after midnight, but it was not a resolution and therefore not legally binding — a point criticized early Monday by the Palestinians, who said they will keep pressing the U.N.'s most powerful body to adopt a strong resolution.
The presidential statement urged Israel and Hamas "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian cease-fire" and said this would allow for the delivery of urgently needed assistance.
The council also called on the parties "to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire, based on the Egyptian initiative."
The Palestinians and the Israelis both criticized the statement adopted by the council, which met as Muslims started celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour said the council should have adopted a strong and legally binding resolution a long time ago demanding an immediate halt to Israel's "aggression," providing the Palestinian people with protection and lifting the siege in the Gaza Strip so goods and people can move freely.
"You cannot keep 1.8 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip in this huge prison," he told reporters. "That is a recipe for disaster. It is inhumane, and it has to be stopped and it has to be lifted."
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said the council statement didn't mention Hamas or the firing of rockets into Israel or Israel's right to defend itself. He sidestepped several questions on whether Israel would accept a new humanitarian cease-fire, but stressed that it had agreed to five cease-fires since the conflict began.
Prosor directed his statement to countries that give money to the Palestinians in Gaza, saying, "Your tax dollars are not being used towards education, civil services or development — they are being used to develop a terrorist stronghold."
The Security Council is often deeply divided on Israeli-Palestinian issues, with the United States, Israel's most important ally, often blocking or using its veto on statements and resolutions pressed by the Palestinians and their supporters.
The statement was drafted by Jordan, the Arab representative on the U.N.'s most powerful body.
Jordan's deputy U.N. ambassador Mahmoud Hmoud said the presidential statement was the first Security Council document on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since January 2009, when it called for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza after another conflict with Hamas.