UN chief says Gaza blockade 'collective punishment', calls for ending it

Gaza: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called for ending the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip and described it as "collective punishment". Ban, who is on a day-long visit to Gaza, said in a press conference in a UN-run school that the "blockade on Gaza suffocates its residents, destroys its economy and impedes reconstruction operations", Xinhua news agency reported. "The blockade is a collective punishment which must be ended and be held accountable," he said, adding that the UN is always with the people of Gaza and knows the difficult living conditions they are experiencing. He pointed to the electricity shortage in Gaza and the unemployment that hit 50 per cent among the coastal enclave's youths. "We must speak openly about the unacceptable hardships faced by the people of Gaza in light of the humiliation, occupation and siege, as well as the division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank," Ban said. He called for uniting the West Bank and Gaza under a democratically elected government based upon the political programme of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Ban also thanked donors for their efforts in the reconstruction of Gaza, pointing out that 90 per cent of the schools and hospitals were reconstructed. He stressed that the international community "has a great responsibility to work continuously and seriously to achieve peace", and that the UN will continue to work for a future without occupation and injustice, and for the establishment of a Palestinian state to live side by side with the state of Israel. Ban's visit to Gaza came at the end of a tour in the Middle East. Before leaving on Tuesday night, Ban will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian officials including Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and President Mahmoud Abbas.