File-AP Photo/ Bebeto Matthews
UN Chief Calls on Israelis, Palestinians to Avoid More Tensions

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has strongly appealed to Israelis and Palestinians to avoid a further escalation of tensions amid concerns that Israeli forces dropped leaflets in the northern Gaza Strip warning residents to evacuate the area.

A statement issued by Ban's spokesman said the UN chief has "learned with concern that leaflets are reportedly being dropped by the Israeli Defence Forces in the northern Gaza Strip this evening," warning tens of thousands of residents to leave their homes and evacuate to Gaza City.

"If true, this would have a further devastating humanitarian impact on the beleaguered civilians of those areas of the Gaza Strip, who have already undergone immense suffering in recent days. The United Nations agencies present in Gaza do not have the resources on the ground to cope with, or provide assistance to, an enormous extra influx of desperate people," the statement said.

Strongly urging all sides to avoid any further escalation, Ban said all obligations under international humanitarian law, both towards civilians ahead of impending attacks, as well as maintaining proportionality in any kind of military response, should be met.

"The Secretary-General reiterates his condemnation of the firing of rockets and the building of tunnels into Israel from Gaza. Once again, the Secretary-General underlines the critical importance of ending hostilities," the UN said.

Earlier yesterday, Ban reiterated his call to Israelis and Palestinians to stop the fighting "in the name of humanity".

Ban joined the Security Council in calling on the parties to agree on an "immediate and unconditional" ceasefire, allowing for the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.

In meeting with regional leaders during his visit, Ban pressed both sides to heed the rising humanitarian toll of the crisis, stop the fighting and return to a comprehensive dialogue that would address and prevent the seemingly endless cycle of violence.

He stressed that no country would accept the threat of rockets from above and tunnels from below adding that "all occupying powers have an international legal obligation to protect civilians".

Ban also expressed disappointment over "dangerous hostilities" resuming over the weekend and added that while the temporary weekend pause in fighting brought a "brief respite" to war-weary civilians, it had also revealed "how much the massive Israeli assault has devastated the lives of the people of Gaza".

He recounted that people on the ground have described the breadth of the destruction, which has reduced neighbourhoods to rubble and flattened apartment buildings throughout the tiny enclave, as a "man-made hurricane".

"The people of Gaza have nowhere to run. Every home, every school, every refuge has become a target," he said.

"I repeat my call on Israel and all the parties to do vastly more to ensure the safety of these UN sites and the security of the people who have sought sanctuary there," Ban said.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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