Ban Ki-moon travels to Middle East to help end conflict in Gaza

UN diplomatic initiative follows failed attempt by Egyptian president to broker return to 2012 Israeli-Hamas ceasefire

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon is on his way to the Middle East today to help end the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

At an emergency Security Council meeting, under-secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman said a ceasefire was "indispensable".

But he stressed the only way to make it stick was for the international community to “assume its responsibility to urgently help restore a serious prospect for a two-state solution that brings an end to the decades-long conflict and occupation”.

Mr Ban has been on the phone with many leaders since the beginning of the conflict trying to bring an end to the violence. His new diplomatic initiative follows a failed attempt by Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to broker a return to the 2012 Israeli-Hamas ceasefire and Thursday’s launch of an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza.

In a flurry of diplomatic activity, Mr Feltman said Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and Mr el-Sissi reportedly agreed at a meeting in Cairo on the need for an immediate ceasefire and the urgency of a donors' conference to start rebuilding the Gaza Strip.

Mr Abbas is in Turkey to meet the country's president and prime minister to press for help in ending the crisis.

The UN refused to say where in the Middle East Mr Ban was heading, but Mr Feltman said he wanted to “express solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians”, so he will almost certainly visit both places, though almost certainly not Gaza for security reasons.

He also plans to in work co-ordination with key regional and international players.

“Israel has legitimate security concerns and we condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel that ended yesterday’s temporary ceasefire. But we are alarmed by Israel’s heavy response,” Mr Feltman said.

In the event of a ceasefire, Mr Feltman said, Mr Abbas has indicated he would be willing to redeploy Palestinian Authority forces to the so-called “Philadelphi corridor”, a route along the Gaza-Egypt border that has been used by Hamas militants to smuggle weapons into the territory.

That would enable the reopening of the Rafah border crossing — a key Palestinian demand — Mr Feltman said, but it was unclear whether having the crossing supervised by Palestinian Authority troops would be acceptable to Hamas.

Palestinian UN ambassador Riyad Mansour threatened to go to UN and international courts, which would probably include the International Criminal Court, if the Security Council failed to take action to end Israel's "crimes and violations against our people".

He urged the council to adopt a resolution condemning “the Israeli aggression” against civilians in Gaza and calling for an immediate ceasefire, the lifting of the Israeli “blockade” on the Gaza Strip, and the protection of the Palestinian people.

The draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, also calls for “all necessary measures to ensure the protection of civilians, including the immediate cessation of military reprisals, collective punishment and excessive use of force against the Palestinian civilian population”.

It stresses the immediate need for humanitarian aid for the Palestinians and calls for urgent efforts to reach a peace agreement based on a two-state solution. It does not mention Hamas.

Such a resolution would face a difficult time winning approval from the United States, a veto-wielding council member.

The Israeli campaign, Mr Mansour said, is aimed at destroying “Palestinian unity and collapse of the national consensus government”. Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Mr Abbas’ moderate Fatah party recently formed a unity government.

Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor said that in the face of terrorist kidnappings, rockets raining down on citizens and jihadists tunnelling under its borders, Israel was left with no choice but to enter Gaza “to restore a sustained quiet to the people of Israel while degrading Hamas’ terror capabilities”.