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Ban Ki-moon Visits Gaza Strip, Condemns Israeli “Collective Punishment”

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, telling UN employees at his first stop that Israel’s blockade of Gaza “suffocates its people, stifles its economy, and impedes construction.” He termed Israeli actions “a collective punishment for which there must be accountability.” Ban promised Gazans “the UN will always be with you” after urging Palestinians to unify the Gaza Strip and West Bank under a single democratic government. A senior official of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, issued a statement highly critical of the UN, condemning it for failing to end the Israeli blockade that was implemented when Hamas ousted Fatah for control of the enclave almost a decade ago. Earlier, Ban met in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu one day before a new report on the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate by the Quartet – the international entity comprised of the US, UN, EU and Russia that has stewardship of the peace process – is released. Israel is bracing for the report which it expects to be highly critical of the Jewish state even though it criticizes the Palestinians as well. The report will be one more voice advocating for an Israeli acceptance of the 2002 Arab Initiative as the framework for peace between Israel and the Arab world.