UN Secretary-general to Visit Israel Next Week

Visit announced during UN Security Council emergency meeting on the Israeli operation in Gaza.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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The UN Security Council.
The UN Security Council.Credit: AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is set to arrive in Israel next week to assist with efforts to reach a truce between Israel and Hamas.

The unexpected announcement was made as the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting Friday on the Gaza crisis. All 15 member states expressed serious concern over the escalation, and called for a cease-fire.

Ban first expressed his intention to visit Israel in a phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday morning. Three hours later, while Israel and the UN were still in talks to arrange the visit, UN undersecretary Jeffrey Feltman announced Ban's impending trip in his opening address to the Security Council emergency meeting, which was called following a request from Jordan. Feltman said Ban would be heading to the region on Saturday. Israeli diplomats believe that Ban hurried to make the announcement before it was completely finalized in order to ensure that Israel couldn't say no.

The diplomats said that Ban is expected in Jerusalem only on Tuesday and will be visiting Cairo beforehand.

The UN chief is expected to meet with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. It is not clear whether he will also ask to visit the Gaza Strip, and whether he will fly to Egypt to discuss cease-fire efforts with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi.

This week, UN Peace Envoy to the Middle East Robert Serry successfully negotiated a five-hour humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. At this point it is unclear if the secretary-general will bring with him a new cease-fire initiative or will try to promote a new humanitarian cease-fire.

Alongside the secretary-general's visit, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is scheduled to arrive in Israel Saturday for a state visit. Fabius visited in Cairo Friday and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and with al-Sissi. Fabius will meet with Netanyahu and Lieberman to discuss the cease-fire efforts.

In a phone conversation between Ban and Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister objected to the UN chief's comparison over the past few days between the rockets fired by Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces' activities in Gaza. "There isn't any symmetry between a murderous terrorist organization and a democratic and moral country being attacked with rockets and tunnels," Netanyahu said. "Israel regrets any attack that accidently hurts Palestinian civilians, while Hamas purposely fires at millions of Israeli civilians."

Netnayhu also asked that Ban make public the photos documenting the rockets hidden in a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Gaza discovered on Thursday. In his speech at the Security Council meeting, undersecretary Feltman said that the UN initiated an investigation into the matter. The Israeli envoy to the UN, Ron Prosor, who spoke after Feltman, said that Hamas was using UN facilities to commit war crimes.

Israel received quite a bit of support from the member states. Countries including the U.S., Australia, France and Great Britain, expressed their support for Israel's right to self-defense, and condemned the firing of rockets from Gaza. That being said, all member states condemned or expressed concern over harm Israel's operations in Gaza is causing to civilians.

Palestinian envoy to the UN Ambassador Dr. Riyad Mansour read out names of Palestinian civilians killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza during the current operation. The Palestinian envoy went as far as threatening that if the international community does not take action to stop the IDF operation the Palestinians will consider contacting the UN's legal bodies, meaning the international court in The Hague.

Ambassador Prosor said in his speech that "the objective of the operation was to remove the threat of terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens. The Israeli government agreed the cease-fire proposals and encountered a refusal by Hamas and continued terrorist attacks and fire," he said.

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