UN Chief Urges Unilateral Israeli Cease-Fire

02/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The U.N. chief urged Israel Friday to declare a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza, but Israel rebuffed the idea as its diplomats headed for Egypt and the United States in what appeared to be a final push toward a truce.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon floated the idea during a visit to the West Bank on his Mideast mission to try to stop Israel's three-week-old offensive against Hamas militants who have been firing rockets from Gaza for years.
"I strongly urge Israeli leadership and government to declare a cease-fire unilaterally," Ban said from Ramallah, the seat of the West Bank government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a fierce rival of Hamas. "It's time to think about a unilateral cease-fire from the Israeli government."

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the idea.

"I don't believe that there's a logical expectation in the international community that Israel unilaterally cease fire while Hamas would continue to target cities, trying to kill our people," he said.

Ban is on a weeklong trip to the region meant to promote a truce after both sides ignored a U.N. resolution demanding an immediate and durable cease-fire. He will not meet with Gaza's Hamas rulers, who have been shunned by much of the international community since they violently overran Gaza in June 2007.

His comments came a day after Israeli forces shelled a U.N. compound in Gaza that had been sheltering hundreds of refugees from the fighting, sending thousands of tons of food aid up in flames. Israeli forces also killed a senior Hamas official on Thursday.

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Some 1,100 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on Dec. 27, including 346 children, according to the U.N. and Gaza health officials. Thirteen Israelis have been killed, four by rocket fire, according to the military.

The Israeli military kept up pressure on Hamas Friday.

Before dawn Friday, Israeli aircraft struck about 40 targets all over Gaza, the military said. An official statement said targets included smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border, a rocket launcher ready for firing and a mosque that housed a tunnel entrance and was also used to store arms.

Later, Palestinian medical officials reported an 11-year-old girl was killed in a shelling in northern Gaza and witnesses reported an airstrike on a Gaza City mosque as people were headed there for Friday prayers. The Israeli military had no comment.

Militant rockets, meanwhile, struck 10 times in southern Israel, causing no injuries, the military said.

In the West Bank, Palestinian medics said Israeli soldiers shot dead a 20-year-old Palestinian during a violent protest against Israel's Gaza Strip offensive.

Witnesses said demonstrators hurled rocks at troops who stopped them from marching into the Israeli-controlled sector of Hebron. The witnesses said the soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters but the man killed was hit by a live round to the head. Five other men were injured, medics said.

The army had no immediate comment.

Chief Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad arrived in Cairo on Friday for his second visit in two days to seek clarifications and express Israeli views about the latest Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni left for Washington, where she was expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. over ways to stop arms smuggling to Hamas. Before leaving, she made clear that halting arms smuggling was a crucial part of any truce deal.

"Israel is going to retain its right to defend itself anyway, also when it comes to the smuggling of weapons, not only to rockets being fired at Israel," she said.

The Bush administration was racing in its final days to negotiate a deal on American support for mediation efforts under which the U.S. would give technical support and expertise to prevent Hamas from rearming, said U.S. and Israeli diplomats. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Israel wants a total end to Hamas' rocket launches into Israel and an arms embargo on Gaza's militant rulers.

Hamas has demanded an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the opening of blockaded border crossings.

"These are our demands and we don't accept any political movement that does not accept them," the movement's top political leader, Khaled Mashaal, said in a televised address from his headquarters in Damascus, Syria.

Intense Israeli military activity in Gaza on Thursday exacted a steep price from Hamas when Interior Minister Said Siam was killed in an airstrike. Siam was the commander of Hamas security forces and was widely feared in Gaza.

A small crowd of mourners buried Siam in Gaza City on Friday. His white-shrouded body was draped in a green Hamas flag and some of the people who carried it chanted, "Greetings from Hamas!" One man fired an assault rifle in the area in a traditional salute.

Siam was seen as a main architect of the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, when Hamas fighters expelled forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Abbas. He was the highest Hamas official killed in the offensive.

Hamas leaders went into hiding before the war began and none attended the funeral. But a statement distributed there in the name of Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said, "This new crime committed by the Zionist war machine will not affect the determination of our people or drive us to raise the flag of surrender."


Barzak reported from Gaza City; Lavie from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press correspondent Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.