Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gaza: Ban calls on all Governments to use their influence to discourage aid flotillas

UN - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced his concern about potential flotillas to Gaza, and written to Governments of countries around the Mediterranean Sea asking them to discourage their use to deliver assistance to the territory.

It was almost one year ago, on 31 May 2010, that Israel raided a six-ship convoy in international waters that was carrying humanitarian goods and activists and heading for Gaza, resulting in the deaths of nine civilians and the wounding of at least 30 others.

“The Secretary-General called on all Governments concerned to use their influence to discourage such flotillas, which carry the potential to escalate into violent conflict,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

“He further called on all, including the Government of Israel, to act responsibly and with caution to avoid any violent incident.”

In his letter to the Governments, Mr. Ban expressed his belief “that assistance and goods destined to Gaza should be channelled through legitimate crossings and established channels.”

Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza for what it called security reasons after Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007. The two factions reached a deal earlier this month agreeing to form a national unity government and hold elections within a year.

Mr. Ban urged Israel to take “meaningful and far-reaching” steps to end the closure of Gaza, adding that it was essential for the operation of legitimate crossings to be adequate to meet the needs of the civilian population living in the territory.

“The Secretary-General reiterated that, while he believed that flotillas were not helpful in resolving the basic economic problems in Gaza, the situation there remains unsustainable,” today’s statement said.

A fact-finding mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council following the incident last May found that the conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the passengers on the flotilla was “disproportionate and excessive.”

A separate panel of inquiry was set up by Mr. Ban to look into the same incident. It was announced today that the Secretary-General has agreed to extend its working period.

“All four members of the panel agreed that more time was needed for them to work on their final report, and to explore the possibility of reaching consensus on the outcome,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson stated.