Palestinians throw shoes at convoy carrying UN chief Ban Ki-moon into Gaza
Relatives of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails also carry posters reading, 'Ban Ki-moon, enough bias to Israel'; Ban thanks Palestinians for their 'warm welcome.'
Palestinian protesters threw shoes and chairs at the convoy of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as it entered the Gaza Strip on Thursday, witnesses at the scene told DPA.
About 40 Palestinians waited for Ban on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing with Israel, north of Gaza City. When his convoy of several UN cars crossed over, it was hit by objects thrown at it, the witnesses said.
While DPA reported that shoes and chairs were flung at the convoy, Reuters said the objects thrown were shoes, sticks and stones, and the Associated Press said "slippers" were hurled at "armored vehicles."
It was not clear whether the vehicle transporting Ban was hit as well, DPA reported.
Many of those who protested as the UN convoy passed were family members of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They held signs in English and Arabic bearing slogans accusing Ban of bias toward Israel and of refusing to meet the relatives of Palestinian prisoners. Some posters read, "Ban Ki-moon, enough bias to Israel."
"We came here in a symbolic message to Mr. Ban Ki-moon that Palestinians from Gaza want to have the right to visit their children and loved ones in Israeli jails," said Jamal Farwana, a spokesman for Gaza prisoners' families. "He should make more of an effort to release the prisoners and we wonder why every time he avoids meeting families of Palestinian prisoners."
About 5,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails and securing their release is a highly emotive issue in Palestinian society.
The relatives formed a human chain at the crossing in an effort to block Ban's vehicle, but Hamas security forces accompanying the convoy moved them away so he could enter Gaza.
No one was injured during the hostile welcome.
Ban was heading to the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, where he is to inaugurate a UN-sponsored construction project. He is visiting the region to try to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Speaking to reporters, Ban thanked the people of Gaza for their "warm welcome."
"I met many people who were waiting for me at the entrance and I fully share their fear and frustration. That is why I am here," he said, referring to the incident at the border crossing. "There is a very dire social, economic and humanitarian problem. People need to move freely ... I have urged the Israeli authorities to lift the restrictions completely and unconditionally."
From Gaza, the UN chief was due re-enter Israel to visit a border town that has been pounded over the years by Palestinian rocket and mortar fire.
"All this violence must stop," he said in Gaza. "I would urge the Palestinians from Gaza: they must stop firing rockets on the Israeli side ... this killing of civilians is not acceptable."
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