UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel on Tuesday to show maximum restraint in its military operation in the Gaza Strip.
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Speaking at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Ban said he strongly condemns rocket attacks, repeating his comments made to Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon Tuesday afternoon that the sides must stop fighting, start talking and take on the root causes of the conflict.
Netanyahu told Ban that "no country could sit idly by while its civilians are being increasingly and indiscriminately targeted." He then called on the international community to hold Hamas accountable for not accepting any of the cease-fire proposals that have been offered to date, such as the Egyptian initiative and the Red Cross temporary cease-fire, and for committing the "double war crime" of using Palestinian civilians as human shields whilst deliberately targeting Israeli civilians. "The people of Gaza are the victims of the brutal Hamas regime," he said.
The prime minister also told the UN secretary-general that cement Israel delivered to Gaza under international pressure was used to build a tunnel leading to an Israeli kindergarten with the intention of blowing it up or murdering Israeli children.
Ban responded to Netanyahu, saying his "heart was heavy" over the continued rocket fire into Israel, and reiterated that the official UN position calls for an immediate stop to rocket fire.
He said that he had not forgotten the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered last month, and that he was deeply moved by the words of Rachelle Fraenkel, mother of murdered teen Naftali, who stated in a speech at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last month that no mother should ever have to go through what they went through.
Ban claimed that the international community is making a concerted effort to reach a cease-fire, adding that Israelis and Palestinians cannot ignore the "fundamental truth" that both Israelis and Palestinians will be forced to live alongside one another.
Netanyahu responded to Ban’s words, saying that Hamas is an example of Islamic extremism - similar to Boko Haram, Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and Hezbollah. "In the face of such extremism, Israel has no option but to defend itself,” he said, “We have sought to end this from the start, but they refuse and we will do what we can to defend ourselves."
Earlier Tuesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, told Ban that Israel makes great efforts to avoid civilian casualties, but that it is almost impossible to avoid them altogether because Hamas fires rockets from populated areas. He offered to show the UN secretary-general "how Hamas fired rockets from schools and mosques, and how they dug tunnels to attack our communities."
For his part, Ban told Ya’alon that he appreciates Israel's security concerns, but is concerned by the civilian casualties of the Israel Defense Forces’ operation in the Gaza Strip. “I hope we will be able to see the end of this violence as soon as possible," he said.
"My message during this visit was: first, stop the violence immediately; second, return to dialogue; and third, we need to address the root causes of this conflict. Returning to the status quo will not bring a solution," said Ban, noting that the root causes include mutual recognition and the use of violence.