The UN’s top official toured rocket-battered Israeli villages near Gaza and expressed “shock” after entering a Hamas attack tunnel with IDF commanders Tuesday.
Ban Ki-moon, on a lightning trip through the region, also visited the Gaza Strip, calling for an independent probe into the Israeli shelling of a UN school and saying the devastation was worse than the last round of fighting.
In Israel, Ban was taken by military officials on a tour of a cross-border tunnel used by Gazan terrorists to infiltrate into Israel and attack soldiers.
“I was shocked by the tunnels used for the infiltration of terrorists,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a press conference held after the tour of the tunnel. He was accompanied by IDF Maj. Gen. Noam Tivon and other senior officers and officials.
“No one needs live under the constant threat and fear of rockets and tunnels digging underground,” said Ban.
Destroying the tunnel threat was one of Israel’s goals during the summer’s military campaign, which saw over 2,100 people killed in Gaza, according to Palestinian and and UN tallies, and 72 people killed in Israel. Israel says half of the dead were Hamas and other gunmen.
While in the south, Ban met with residents of Kibbutz Nirim, including the family of four-year-old Daniel Tragerman, who was killed in an August 22 mortar attack by Hamas on nearby Kubbutz Nahal Oz. Tragerman’s grandmother Paulina showed him an enlarged photo of the boy, who was killed by shrapnel from a mortar shell that exploded outside his home.
“He was just a little boy. What has he done wrong?” Ban asked in a speech following the encounter.
Tragerman’s parents, Gila and Doron, sent a letter to the secretary general last month urging him to speak out against war crimes committed by Hamas.
The UN chief arrived in Israel on Monday and has been on a multi-day tour of the region, including a brief visit to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
After touring Gaza, Ban demanded an independent probe into Israel’s deadly shelling of a school during the Gaza conflict, expressing shock at the devastation during a visit to the Palestinian enclave.
“The shelling of the United Nations school is absolutely unacceptable. These actions must be fully and independently investigated,” he said.
The secretary general was speaking at a UN school in Jabaliya, where tank shells slammed into two classrooms on July 30, killing at least 14 people sheltering there, according to Gazan health officials.
Relatives of the dead held up posters showing their loved ones and disabled casualties waited to see Ban.
Dozens of Palestinians were reported killed in the shelling of three UN schools being used as shelters in Gaza in late July and early August.
An Israeli military investigation into the shelling found that the IDF had responded to fire coming from the area of the school.
While in Gaza, Ban toured some of the areas worst hit during the July-August war between Israel and the territory’s Hamas rulers.
“No amount of (UN) Security Council sessions, reports or briefings could have prepared me for what I witnessed today,” he said after being driven through the ruins of Gaza City’s Shejaiya district and the nearby Jabaliya refugee camp.
The UN chief also called on Palestinian militant groups to cease firing rockets at Israel from the territory.
“I repeat here in Gaza the rockets fired by Hamas and other military groups must end. They have brought nothing but suffering,” he said.
After meeting with members of a new Palestinian consensus government, Ban told reporters the devastation he had seen was worse than that caused in a previous conflict, in winter 2008-2009.
“This is a much more serious destruction than what I saw in 2009,” he said.
The tour of the area came after meetings Ban held in recent days with regional leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo.
At a Sunday conference in Cairo dealing with the reconstruction of Gaza, Ban blamed the violence between Israelis and Palestinians on “a restrictive occupation that has lasted almost half a century, the continued denial of Palestinian rights and the lack of tangible progress in peace negotiations.”
The meeting saw some $5.4 billion raised to begin rebuilding the Strip. On Tuesday, the first trucks carrying building material rumbled into the Strip from Israel.
On Tuesday, Ban urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to revive peace talks.
“I’m asking the leaders of both parties… to resume their talks,” he said. “Otherwise it’s a matter of time that the violence will continue.”
Ban said a first shipment of building materials was on its way to Gaza through Israel under an agreement reached last month.
“I’m very happy to announce that the first truck carrying… construction materials is coming to Gaza today,” he said.
The Israeli army said it had “transferred construction materials to the Gaza Strip in order to facilitate rehabilitation projects.”
It said the supplies were “expected to include 600 tons of cement, 50 trucks of construction aggregates and 10 trucks of metal.”
Ban criticized Israel in his meetings Monday in Ramallah, slamming settlement construction and “provocations” on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount..