UN Chief Urges Israel to Lift Gaza Blockade

At Cyprus meet promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace, Ban says siege is blocking humanitarian aid.

The United Nations Secretary-General on Wednesday urged Israel to stop blocking fuel, cash and other materials that are urgently needed to alleviate hardship in the Gaza Strip.

UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon said he was very disturbed that life in the Palestinian territory remains extremely difficult more than three months after Israel's three-week offensive there earlier this year.

He said a near total ban on trade except for basic needs is preventing broader humanitarian assistance, economic recovery and long-term development.

Ban said measures that increase hardship and suffering in Gaza are unacceptable and must stop immediately.

Ban's remarks were read during a UN-sponsored international meeting in Cyprus in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In addition to restrictions on what it deems luxury goods, such as cigarettes and chocolates, Israel has blocked entry of materials such as cement and steel for rebuilding because it says they could be used for bunkers and rearming.

Since Hamas ousted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' secular Fatah from the Gaza Strip in a bloody 2007 coup, Israel has tightened its blockade, with Egypt's assistance, of the 45 kilometer strip in an effort to weaken Hamas' hold on power.