Ban Ki-moon calls for ‘full investigation’ into Israeli war crimes

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United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon called on Tuesday for those responsible for the bombing of UN-run buildings and schools in Gaza to be held accountable following Israel’s 22-day war on Hamas.

He said the situation in Gaza was ‘heartbreaking’.

‘It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack on the United Nations,’ Ban said, speaking outside the still-smouldering main UN compound in Gaza City that was bombed during the war.

‘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,’ he said.

Ban’s Gaza visit was the first visit by an international leader to the coastal strip following Israel’s deadly 22-day offensive on the territory.

‘The secretary general was keen to express solidarity with the people of Gaza who have suffered so much over the past few weeks and the UN staff who have continued heroically to provide assistance despite the difficulties,’ said Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Ban.

Before leaving for Gaza, the UN chief met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in occupied Jerusalem, and was also scheduled to tour the rocket-stricken town of Sderot.

Two Palestinian children were killed by explosives left behind by Israeli occupation forces in Gaza and a farmer was shot dead by Israeli gunfire, hospital officials reported on Tuesday.

The director of Emergency and Ambulance Services in the Palestinian Health Ministry, Muawiya Hassanain said that the farmer came under Israeli fire east of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian medics said that a young boy and his sister were killed when they were playing with an unexploded bomb left behind by Israeli troops in the Ash-Sha’f area of eastern Gaza city. They were identified as 10-year-old Abdullah Hassanain, and 11-year-old Shurouq Hassanain.

Hospital officials urged Gaza residents to stay away from ordinance left behind by Israeli forces, and not to eat food discarded by Israeli soldiers as it may be poisoned.

Dr Hassanein, the Health Ministry official, said on Tuesday that the overall death toll in Gaza had risen to 1,414 after 112 bodies were recovered from the rubble in the three days since the ceasefire was declared.

On Tuesday morning, Israeli bulldozers backed by tanks entered the central Gaza Strip and bulldozed agricultural lands.

Meanwhile, Israeli warships shelled open areas in the north west of Gaza City. No casualties were reported.

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian civil defense workers continue to recover corpses from under the rubble throughout the Strip.

Twelve corpses were discovered on Monday and reports indicated that there were still more bodies in the ruins of buildings destroyed in the war.

Signs of life began to appear in the streets as hundreds of armed, uniformed police officers deployed in the streets.

Shops also opened and people reconnected with relatives across Gaza after three weeks of constant bombardment.

The densely-populated Gaza Strip has been left vulnerable to outbreaks of disease following Israel’s 22-day military offensive, the head of the World Health Organisation warned on Monday.

‘Right now, we very sadly see ideal conditions for outbreaks of disease,’ WHO director general Margaret Chan said at the opening of the executive board’s annual meeting.

‘Densely packed and displaced populations are weakened by hunger, little power for cooking and heating, and severe psychological trauma. Drinking water is scarce, sewage lines have been broken, and garbage is piling up,’ she said.

‘Immunisation, along with most routine health services, has been interrupted for more than three weeks. An outbreak under such conditions would be another health crisis that should not happen,’ Chan said.

Hospitals in the tiny territory, which has a population of 1.5 million people, ‘have been completely overwhelmed by the emergency needs of the wounded.

‘Medical staff, including surgical teams, are exhausted,’ she said, noting that there are only 2,000 hospital beds in Gaza.

‘The wounded, who number in the thousands, continue to need care. Many civilian infrastructures, including hospitals and primary care clinics, have been badly damaged or destroyed,’ she said.

The war has underscored ‘the absolute need for safe corridors to evacuate the severely wounded,’ Chan said.

‘We have seen the absolute need to protect civilians, but also to ensure the safety of health workers, hospitals, ambulances and supplies for humanitarian relief.’

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke on Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Gaza, in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday 18 January.

He said: ‘I appeal to all parties to refrain from any resumption of hostilities, including against UN staff and premises, and to guarantee conditions for the safe, rapid and unimpeded delivery of aid.

‘As the UN shoulders its full responsibilities in Gaza for humanitarian assistance, early recovery and reconstruction, I intend to consult closely with key partners: with Egypt and Arab countries, with Norway as the Chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, with Turkey, and with European, Russian and United States leaders as members of the Quartet – including the new Administration of President Obama.

‘We need to bring together these collective efforts in one common endeavour to support a sustainable ceasefire.

‘We all know that relief and reconstruction are an immediate priority, but more is needed. Indeed, we have rebuilt Gaza before.

‘The key challenge before the leaders gathered here today is to do all possible to make sure that this tragedy does not occur again.

‘We also need a functioning system for all the crossings in and out of Gaza, a system that will immediately allow full access for humanitarian goods and personnel.

‘The framework for the crossings must also ensure that we return, sooner rather than later, to the conditions reached in the Agreement on Movement and Access. Palestinians must not subsist on relief.

‘For such a framework to succeed, the Palestinians themselves must face the challenge of reconciliation, and work to achieve a unified government under the leadership of President Abbas within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority.

‘I call on all Arab leaders to unite and support this endeavour. We cannot rebuild Gaza without Palestinian unity.

‘A true end to violence, and lasting security for both Palestinians and Israelis, will only come through a just and comprehensive settlement to the long-festering Arab-Israeli conflict.

‘The violence and suffering is a mark of political failure. The efforts of the past have not proved sufficient to address the underlying conflict.

‘The occupation that began in 1967 must end. There must be an end to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This effort must have at its centre the implementation of Security Council resolutions and the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative.

‘The parties must return to negotiations. But more than that; there must be a massive and unprecedented effort of the community to support this process, and insist, finally, that it succeeds.’