In Ramallah, Ban Ki-moon blasts settlements, Temple Mount strife

UN chief calls for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, decries ‘unsustainable status quo’

Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah (R) shakes hands with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon following the latter's arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 13, 2014. (photo credit: AFP Photo/Ammar Awad)
Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah (R) shakes hands with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon following the latter's arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 13, 2014. (photo credit: AFP Photo/Ammar Awad)

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday slammed Israeli settlement building and warned against “provocations” at Jerusalem’s holy sites, calling for renewed peace talks to avoid further conflict with the Palestinians.

Ban was in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he met Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, a day after a Cairo conference at which international donors pledged $5.4 billion (4.3 billion euros) to rebuild the war-ravaged Gaza Strip.

“The amount that has been committed, pledged by the international community is quite encouraging,” Ban said at a joint news conference with Hamdallah.

The funds would go towards the “urgently needed” reconstruction of infrastructure and homes, he said, referring to an “unprecedented” level of destruction in Gaza where nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in July and August.

Israel says residential neighborhoods were targeted due to the practice of Gazan fighters of embedding rocket launchers among civilian homes and institutions, though the army also targeted homes of Hamas’s leadership.

But “while rebuilding is important, we must tackle the root causes of instability,” Ban said. “We must give renewed attention to the West Bank.”

“I once again strongly condemn the continued settlement activity by Israel,” the UN chief said, echoing international condemnation of plans for new homes on territory claimed by the Palestinians.

The White House and European Union have slammed Israel’s approval in September for 2,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem.

The settlements issue has led Palestinians to stall or abandon numerous rounds of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“I am also deeply concerned by repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem. These only inflame tensions and must stop,” Ban said.

His comments came hours after Israeli police and Palestinian protesters clashed at the Al-Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Israeli police said Monday that they had received information about a group planning to throw rocks and firebombs at Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall, just below the Al-Aqsa site.

The site is holy to both Jews and Muslims, and is an underlying cause of Israeli-Palestinian tension, which has heightened in Jerusalem since the Gaza conflict.

Ban called for the two sides to revive a stagnant peace process that collapsed in April despite intense US efforts.

“I urge Palestinians to show courage and continue engaging in the… peace process… (and) Israelis to do the same,” Ban said. “I welcome renewed international political leadership and action. Time is not on the side of peace.

“We need to act immediately to prevent a deepening of an already unsustainable status quo… this is the only way to avoid yet another tragic conflict in the future,” he said.

Hamdallah on Monday urged international donor nations to honor their pledges to send billions of dollars to help rebuild the Gaza Strip.

Donor nations on Sunday promised to provide $5.4 billion, half of which is earmarked for rebuilding the war-battered territory. The Palestinian prime minister said it is critical that donor nations keep their promises. He noted that after a previous war in 2009, only a small fraction of pledged money was actually sent.

“Our plans are ready for the reconstruction, but it depends on the flow of the money,” he said at the meeting with the visiting UN chief. “In 2009, most of the pledged money did not come. We hope that this time is different.”

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