Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:15 am (KSA) 21:15 pm (GMT)

UN chief urges Israel to ease Gaza blockade

Ban Ki-moon calls on Israel to continue "its restraint on settlement activity  (File)
Ban Ki-moon calls on Israel to continue "its restraint on settlement activity (File)

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pressed Israel Friday to further ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip and to restrain settlement activity in the occupied West Bank as he met Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Their wide-ranging discussions touched on the overall situation in Gaza, with Ban underscoring the importance of a "further easing of the (border) closures," on Lebanon and on Israel's settlement activity, a U.N. statement said.

The secretary general called on the Jewish state to continue "its restraint on settlement activity and to extend it to east Jerusalem" among other steps that could spur "meaningful direct talks" between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel last November announced a 10-month halt to new settlement construction in the occupied West Bank following months of U.S. pressure on both sides to revive peace talks suspended after the outbreak of the Gaza war in late 2008.

The Palestinians have long demanded a complete freeze on Israeli settlement expansion ahead of direct peace talks.

Ban and Barak did not speak to reporters. But a U.N. statement said they also had a separate private session, which was believed to have focused on prospects for a credible, international probe of the bloody Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last May 31.

In the wake of that tragedy which left nine Turkish activists dead, Israel significantly eased its blockade of Gaza, barring only arms and goods that could be used to create weapons or build fortifications, but it has maintained a naval blockade of the Strip.

Israel imposed the siege June 2006 after its soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Gaza militants and tightened it a year later when Hamas seized power in the coastal strip.

Rejecting calls for probe

Last week, the Geneva-based Human Rights Council named a panel of experts to probe whether the Israeli raid on the aid flotilla breached international law.

Israel has consistently rejected calls for an international independent investigation into the raid and instead launched two internal inquiries.

And it has signaled it will not cooperate with the probe by the U.N. Human rights council, a body it views as "biased".

On Friday The U.N. Human Rights Committee told Israel it must lift its military blockade of the Gaza Strip and invite an independent, fact-finding mission to investigate its raid on the aid flotilla,

The U.N. Committee also told Israel to ensure that Palestinians in the occupied territories can enjoy the fundamental civil and political freedoms that Israel had pledged to uphold in the main international human rights treaty.

Israel maintains that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not apply to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, although it says that the treaty does apply to Jewish settlers there, committee member Christine Chanet said.

The committee is a body of 18 independent experts, mainly prominent in international and human rights law, that monitors the implementation of the Covenant by the 166 countries including Israel that have signed up to it.

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