Ban meets with Abbas in Qatar, reiterates call for immediate ceasefire

20 July 2014 – As the fighting raged in Gaza, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today met with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha, the first leg of his Middle East tour which aims to express solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians and help bring about a ceasefire.

"As I travel the region, I will continue to press for an [immediate] ceasefire – an immediate end to the Israeli military operation in Gaza and the rocket fire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad," Mr. Ban said at a press conference alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya.

He reiterated his demand that all sides respect international humanitarian law and put and stop the ongoing violence.

"While I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children, have been killed in Israeli military strikes in the Shejaiyah neighborhood in Gaza," Mr. Ban said. "I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians."

According to media reports, at least 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli Defence Forces were killed today in what is being called the bloodiest fighting to date in the nearly two-week offensive.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) said that 81,000 displaced people had now taken refuge in 61 UNRWA shelters in Gaza.

"This figure far exceeds the number seeking refuge with us in the 2008/9 conflict and it is continuing to rise," UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said in an emailed statement.

Mr. Ban and other senior UN officials have repeatedly said that the only way to avoid the cycle of violence and the perpetual insecurity in the region can be to address the root causes of the conflict.

They have also urged a return to the negotiating table and talks for a two-State solution.

"Israelis, but also Palestinians, need to feel a sense of security," Mr. Ban said at today's press conference. "Palestinians, but also Israelis, need to see a horizon of hope."

The UN chief had been studying a request by Mr. Abbas which would place Palestine under an international protection system administered by the UN, according to the UN's top political official, Jeffrey Feltman.

During the press conference, Mr. Ban said that he looked forward to the meeting with Mr. Abbas which would "continue our discussions and find the way to peace."

Mr. Ban heads next to Kuwait City, followed by Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman before returning to New York by the end of the week, according to his spokesperson.

Mr. Ban has said he may change his schedule to visit "some other countries wherever I need to be."

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