UN Chief: Israel, Palestinians Must Resume Peace Talks

Ban Ki-moon: Israeli blockade of Gaza 'unacceptable and counter-productive' to Gaza's reconstruction.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called on Israelis and Palestinians to promptly resume talks to overcome the daunting obstacles in the way of settling their conflict.

"Permanent status issues, including Jerusalem, borders, refugees, security, settlements and water will be resolved only through negotiations," Ban said in a message to the UN meeting in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace being held in Qawra, Malta.

Ban's comments follow a visit to the region at the beginning of the month made by U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, in an attempt to restart peace talks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that he expected peace talks with the Palestinians to resume "within the coming weeks."

"I have been saying for quite some time that the international community recognizes the fact that Israel wants and is ready to renew the peace process," the premier said. "From the moment that this recognition has dawned on the key elements in the international community, the feasibility and practicality of this move has also come to fruition."

In addition to encouraging the two parties to return to the negotiating table, Ban also criticized Israel's settlement building as well as the rocket fire coming from Gaza.

"At this crucial juncture, Israel should refrain from taking steps, which have the potential to prejudge negotiations and create tensions," he said, citing the expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and eviction of some Palestinians from the area.

The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip inflicted "protracted suffering" on Palestinians, which is a source of great concern, Ban said. He described the blockade as "unacceptable and counter-productive" to development and reconstruction in the war-torn territory.

On the other hand, Ban condemned renewed rocket fire from Gaza, "which indiscriminately targets Israeli civilians."