UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded an end to "the senseless cycle of suffering" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday telling the General Assembly that "the massive deaths and destruction in Gaza have shocked and shamed the world."
Ban urged the international community to support the enormous task of rebuilding Gaza, providing humanitarian aid to thousands in need, and caring for the wounded and traumatized.
"We will build again, but this must be the last time to rebuild," the U.N. chief told the 193-member world body in an impassioned speech. "This must stop now. They must go back to the negotiating table."
"We must spare no effort to turn the current calm into a durable cease-fire that addresses the underlying issues of the conflict: ending rocket fire from Gaza, weapons smuggling, opening the (Gaza) crossings, lifting the blockade and bringing Gaza back under one Palestinian government that accepts and adheres to the PLO commitments," he said.
Those commitments include the right of the state of Israel to exist which Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, has refused to recognize.
Ban said the United Nations understands Israel's right to defend itself from Hamas rockets, but "the horror that was unleashed on the people of Gaza" raises serious questions about respect for international law that requires a distinction between civilians and combatants, and proportionality in attacks.
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay told the assembly that "any attacks in violation of these principles, on civilians, homes, schools and hospitals, must be condemned, and may amount to war crimes."
She told the assembly by videoconference that the casualty toll in this conflict — nearly 1,900 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, and 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians — has superseded Israeli military operations in 2008-2009.
Pillay stressed that there has been no accountability for the conflicts in 2008-2009 and in 2012, but she said the Commission of Inquiry established last month by the U.N. Human Rights Council "will help to establish clarity regarding acts committed by all parties, thus beginning to address accountability issues related to the current hostilities in Gaza, as well as to the West Ban including East Jerusalem." Its report will be presented in March 2015 and "should be carefully considered and followed with appropriate action," she said.