U.N.’s Ban visits Gaza

JERUSALEM (JTA) — On a visit to Gaza, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Palestinians there are living under "unacceptable, unsustainable conditions."

Ban visited Gaza on Sunday just hours before he was scheduled to meet with the parents of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza. Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006. The Shalits planned to visit the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva this week to appeal for the council to intervene on behalf of their son.

Ban, on his second visit to Gaza since last year’s war there between Israel and Hamas, announced during his visit that Israel would allow in materials to construct a housing project in Khan Younis, including 150 apartments, a U.N.-sponsored school and a sewage system.

Ban met on Saturday night with Israeli President Shimon Peres. He said he brought a "clear message" to Israel from the Quartet on the Middle East. "As we seek a diplomatic way forward, it is vital to ease tensions on the ground. We have got to have an immediate end to all violence, calm the situation, and protect civilians," Ban said during joint remarks with Peres.

Ban called for the restarting of negotiations, saying that the goal of the Quartet was to "complete negotiations on a settlement of all core issues within 24 months."

Ban also addressed Israel’s response to the Haiti earthquake: “I would like to express my sincere gratitude as the Secretary General of the United Nations to the Israeli government and people for the quick and very generous and very effective response to the earthquake in Haiti. Israeli action helped many Haitians as well as the United Nations mission. Your field support and hospital and search and rescue teams were very courageous and effective. I met them myself and I applaud you for such generous support. This was a wonderful expression of global solidarity and great humanity. Thank you very much. Todah.”

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