UN chief urges Israeli PM not to embark on ground operation in Gaza

UN chief urges Israeli PM not to embark on ground operation in Gaza
# 20 November 2012 21:31 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Tuesday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "act with restraint" amid the operation in Gaza and urged him not to order a military invasion of the strip, APA reports quoting Xinhua.

Both Ban and Netanyahu made statements to the press prior to their meeting, discussing the international community's efforts to achieve a cease-fire agreement between Israel and the militant groups in Gaza.

"The entire world is concerned with the loss of human lives on both sides and a further escalation of the fighting will be tragic for both sides," Ban told reporters.

"This escalation of the violence is putting the entire region at risk and I'm here to appeal to all sides to withhold fire," he added.

Ban also denounced the rocket attacks fired from the Gaza Strip, saying they are "unacceptable, reckless and irresponsible." "I strongly condemn these attacks and call for them to cease immediately, these attacks are killing and injuring civilians."

However, Ban stressed the importance of reaching an agreement as soon as possible.

"I urge you not to embark on a ground operation. When you are targeting military targets in Gaza, you are also hurting and killing civilians and damaging the civil infrastructure. The loss of civilian lives, in both sides is unacceptable. An excessive use of force is unlawful and must be rejected," he added.

Netanyahu, on his part, said that the Israeli government is striving for a diplomatic solution but is also reserving the right to defend its citizens.

"If there is a diplomatic solution we're willing to be a part of it, but we will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to defend our citizens," he said, adding that the Israeli army is going to " great lengths" to avoid hurting civilians, unlike Hamas who he said is "hiding behind Palestinian civilians and targeting Israeli civilians."

Prior to their meeting, the UN chief met with Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in their chambers in Jerusalem.

According to an announcement by the Foreign Ministry, Lieberman thanked Ban for his efforts to reach a cease-fire yet added that if Israel should be "forced" to invade the Gaza Strip it will not be a limited operation.

Lieberman also said that the international community's calls upon Israel to avoid a ground operation in the strip are " strengthening Hamas and prolonging the current conflict."

Ban's visit to the area was planned in advance, prior to " Operation Pillar of Defense," in light of the Palestinian Authority's plan bid to the UN, to become an observing member in its General Assembly.

However, the visit soon developed into another diplomatic attempt to cease the ongoing fighting between Israel and the militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also due to arrive in Israel later Tuesday evening in an emergency visit. She is expected to meet with Netanyahu during the night or early Wednesday morning, and on Wednesday meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Clinton's visit is aimed at accelerating the negotiations and pressure Israel to agree on a truce and end its seven-day operation on Gaza.

Ban is set to return to Cairo where he will continue to supervise the efforts to achieve a cease-fire, in a summit mediated by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

Egyptian officials announced earlier Tuesday that a cease-fire agreement will be signed within several hours.

According to several diplomatic analysts in local news outlets, there is an attempt during the debates to assemble an international body to monitor that the terms of the future cease- fire agreement will be kept, similar to the current situation in Israel's border with Lebanon, which is monitored by UNIFIL soldiers.

More than 1,700 missiles were launched from Gaza to Israeli territory as nearly 700 landed, causing the deaths of four Israelis. The Iron Dome anti-missiles battery intercepted more than 300 missiles.

The Israel Air Force struck down over 1350 targets in the Gaza Strip since the operation began on Wednesday, including militant chiefs, missiles arsenals, smuggling tunnels and launch pads. At least 125 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 900 injured.