UN chief chastises Israel at 'crucial time' in peace process

At a UN regional meeting in Uruguay, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel to cease settlement building and avoid provocative actions ahead of the September deadline for a peace deal.

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United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon urged Israel yesterday to refrain from provocative actions at a "crucial time" in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as a September deadline set for a peace deal fast approaches.

“The target dates for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on permanent status issues and completing the Palestinian Authority's two-year state-building program are fast-approaching," said Mr. Ban, speaking at a regional UN meeting in Latin America, where support for Palestinian sovereignty runs high. "Yet, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations remain at a worrying standstill.”

Specifically, the UN secretary-general called on Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank, calling its occupation "politically unsustainable." He also urged Israel to ease the blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which Israel has defended as crucial to preventing weapons from flowing into the hands of militants.

“Actions that prejudge the outcome of the process must stop, including Israel's continued settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which is illegal under international law and which contradicts the road map," said Ban. "Demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the forced transfer of its Palestinian residents erode trust. … There must also be strong action against incitement or glorification of violent acts.”

Israel and Gaza militants have been engaged in a nearly two-week spate of violent clashes along the border that mark the worst violence since the 2009 Gaza war – and herald, some say, another conflict.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that it killed a Palestinian gunman and injured another on a motorcycle in a strike today on the Gaza Strip. The IDF said the men had launched a short-range rocket across the border into Israel Tuesday.

Palestinian factions, whose actions are not always coordinated with Hamas or each other, made contradictory statements about who was responsible. Islamic Jihad, a militant Palestinian faction, claimed the men as their fighters, but said the men were on their way to prayers at a mosque at the time Israel fired. Later, a group linked to Al Qaeda, Tawheed And Jihad, claimed the Tuesday rocket attack, Reuters reports.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces also bombed a smuggling tunnel Gazans use to evade the blockade imposed on them, witnesses told Reuters.

Hamas offered Israel a truce on Saturday in an effort to prevent a wider Israeli assault on Gaza, but Gaza militants and Israel have continued trading fire.

On March 25 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to use “great force” against rocket and mortar attacks, Al Jazeera notes, and on Sunday an Israeli air strike killed two Gazan fighters. The strike prompted al-Quds Brigade, Islamic Jihad's armed wing, to threaten retaliation.

The recent clashes resemble the pattern of violence that escalated into the 2009 Israeli incursion into Gaza, an Israeli official warned last week. Still, both Israeli and Palestinian rulers seem reluctant to enter into a full-blown conflict on par with that one, The Christian Science Monitor reported on March 24.

Still, with both governments facing wary populaces, it appears unlikely for now that the violence will quickly escalate into a full-blown war. Gazans still blame Hamas for escalating the deadly war two years ago. And Israeli officials – despite absorbing a week of rocket attacks and yesterday's Jerusalem bombing that killed one person and injured 30 – find the idea of a broad offensive unappealing at a time when the peace process is moribund and the region is awash in protests. …

Palestinians believe that Hamas militants instigated the flare-up over the weekend [two weeks ago] to undermine prospects for an upcoming visit to Gaza by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss a unified Palestinian government with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah. That said, Hamas must be wary of still fresh public memory of the three-week war in which some 1,400 Gazans were killed, including hundreds of noncombatants.

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