UN Officials Express Concern Over Violence in and From Gaza

The Quartet members and Sec.-Gen. Ban called upon the Palestinian Authority to halt the ongoing rocket fire on Israeli cities.

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Nissan Ratzlav-Katz,

United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon met on Wednesday with representatives of the Quartet of nations sponsoring the US-initiated Road Map to Middle East Peace. At the meeting, which was held in Berlin, the Quartet members and Sec.-Gen. Ban called upon the Palestinian Authority to halt the ongoing rocket fire on Israeli cities.
The group also called upon Israel to "exercise restraint."

The Quartet consists of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the UN chief said that both Israel and the PA need to understand that they must work together to create a positive diplomatic atmosphere, which will serve to implement the Quartet's Road Map. The Quartet nations expressed their concern over the spiraling internecine Arab violence in Gaza. The Quartet representatives also called upon the PA leadership to do all in its power to obtain the release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston and IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, both of whom are held by PA terrorists in the Gaza region.

While the Quartet condemned the PA rocket fire on Israeli towns and cities, the group also called upon Israel to "exercise restraint to ensure that its security operations avoid civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure." In addition, the Quartet called on Israel to release those PA terrorists in Israeli custody who are also elected representatives in the PA legislature.

This echoed statements by UN Sec. Gen. Ban on Tuesday, as well, when he said that Israel had the right to defend herself from the Kassam rocket attacks on the south, which he classified as a direct violation of international law. However, the UN Secretary General stressed that Israel must avoid harming PA civilians.

In reaction to the statement by the Quartet, on Thursday Egypt expressed the view that it was "unbalanced" and unhelpful, as well as jeopardizing the Quartet's reputation as a neutral force in the region. A spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry called the statement a "green light" to Israel for all its military actions in the PA. "How can Israel avoid death of civilians while using heavy weapons in bombing targets located in residential areas?" the spokesman asked rhetorically.

The Egyptian official also rejected the call for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit without the quid pro quo of the release of PA prisoners in Israeli jails.

UN Security Council's Statements on Gaza, Lebanon
The President of the United Nations Security Council, currently from the United States, published a statement on Wednesday regarding the violence in PA-controlled Gaza.

The Egyptian official rejected the call for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

"The members of the Security Council expressed their grave concern at the breakdown of the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and the resulting increase in violence," the UNSC President said. "The members welcomed the efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to establish a ceasefire, and expressed appreciation for the active support of the Government of Egypt in this regard. They urged all parties to join the members of the Council in supporting the call of President Abbas for an immediate end to the violence."

In a subsequent decision also related to the Middle East, the UNSC voted to establish an international court for the investigation of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri was killed in a car bomb explosion in 2005, responsibility for which has been laid at the door of the Syrian regime by many Lebanese and world leaders.