Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed profound concern over the humanitarian suffering in the Gaza Strip while stressing the importance of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet in the ongoing efforts to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr. Ban told journalists yesterday after a Quartet meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, that he was "deeply distressed about the plight of the civilian population in Gaza," where around 1.4 million people are forcibly confined to the area and socio-economic conditions are in rapid decline.
"Through the work of several United Nations agencies, including UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations is standing by the people of Gaza and helping them in these difficult times," Mr. Ban told reporters.
The Secretary-General also said that the closure of crossings and the establishment of roadblocks, as well as ongoing settlement issues and the demolition of houses, do not help the peace process, after the Quartet met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday.
"The Quartet [comprising the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States] has also made clear its support for a more constructive strategy for Gaza," Mr. Ban said.
He called for recent violence in the region to stop and stressed that Palestinian factions must work together for national unity and reconciliation and overcome their divisions.
"I stand ready not only to participate and facilitate the political process but also most importantly to facilitate the ongoing humanitarian assistance to these people."
The importance of the Quartet's role in monitoring negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, assessing progress in implementing agreements, as well as continuing to support the bilateral talks was also stressed by Mr. Ban.
"I think the most important mechanism is the Quartet, composed of all principals together with Quartet Representative Tony Blair."
In a statement following yesterday's meeting, the Quartet called on the international community to put its full weight behind Israeli-Palestinian negotiations after Ms. Livni and Mr. Abbas reported that recent talks have been "substantial and promising."