File - AP Photo/Seth Wenig
UN Chief Welcomes Fresh Ceasefire in Gaza

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed Egypt's announcement that the Israelis and the Palestinians have accepted another 72 hours' unconditional humanitarian ceasefire and urged all sides to avoid steps that would lead to a resumption of violence.

Ban expressed "his strong hope that this will give the two sides, under Egyptian auspices, another chance to agree on a durable ceasefire for the benefit of all civilian populations and as a starting point to address the underlying grievances on both sides," according to a statement from his spokesperson here yesterday.

Ban urged all concerned to work constructively towards resolving differences and avoid any steps which would lead to a "return violence".

He said the United Nations stands ready to assist in the implementation of an agreement that would consolidate peace and allow for much-needed reconstruction and development of Gaza.

Ban's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has been in Cairo working in support of Egyptian efforts to halt the fighting. The latest ceasefire began at 12:01 am local time today.

It follows a three-day ceasefire that ended on Friday. The previous ceasefire allowed UN and humanitarian partners to restock food, water and other supplies, and to survey the damages.

At least 1,948 Palestinians, majority of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict, along with 67 Israelis, mostly soldiers, according to figures cited by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In addition, some 425,000 people are seeking shelter either in UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) facilities, government shelters or with host families.

About 11,855 housing units in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli attacks, and another 36,000 have suffered damage, according to the latest OCHA "Situation Report".

The UN agency estimates that reconstruction and repair costs of these houses will be USD 410 million.

UNRWA has said it is in a period of multiple and rapid response, working with other UN agencies and the Palestinian Authority on a reconstruction plan.

"We estimate that 70 per cent of all those affected by the housing crisis are refugees and we are responsible for them," spokesperson Chris Gunness said.

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