Palestinian protesters have thrown shoes and stones at UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's convoy as it crossed into the Gaza Strip. Ban was visiting the region in a bid to restart stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was met by a crowd of angry Palestinian protesters on Thursday as his convoy attempted to cross into the Gaza Strip.
Demonstrators pelted slippers, sticks and stones at the vehicle, angered that Ban's visit to the region did not include meetings with the families of Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Signs reading "Ban Ki-moon, enough bias to Israel" were held by some 40 relatives of the Gaza prisoners before the vehicle pushed through the crowd, entering Hamas-ruled territory.
Despite the recent release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a captive Israeli soldier, there are still around 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Strict restrictions on entry into Israel from the coastal strip mean that relatives have been unable to visit the prisoners since 2006.
"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."
The UN chief is currently on a mission to the region to try kick-start long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Speaking at a news conference in southern Gaza, Ban thanked the people of Gaza for their "warm welcome," prompting laughter from local journalists.
"I fully share their concern and frustration," Ban went on to say. "This is why I am here for the third time. This is a very dire economic, social, humanitarian problem."
He called again for Israeli authorities to lift all restrictions on the Gaza Strip, while strongly urging Palestinians from Gaza to stop firing rockets onto the Israeli side. "Indiscriminate killing of people, civilians, is not acceptable, for whatever reasons," Ban said.
From Gaza, the UN chief will re-enter Israel to visit a bordering town that has been the frequent target of Palestinian rocket and mortar fire over the years.
ccp/sb (AP, AFP, Reuters)