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UN chief demands restoration of peace process as Israel, Hamas hold fire in Gaza

Source: Xinhua | 01-19-2009 16:55

Special Report:   Israel airstrikes in Gaza

CAIRO, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday stressed the importance of reviving the Middle East peace process as he is nearing the end of his one-week tour of the region in a bid to silence gunfire in Gaza.

"We need to put this Middle East peace process back on track," said Ban at an Egypt-hosted summit held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm Al-sheikh, which was aimed at shoring up the shaky ceasefire in the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.

"The whole international community, particularly Arab countries, should fully support this process," he said, adding that the 2006 Lebanon war and the 2008 fighting in Gaza were the "repetition of the failure of this peace process."

Ban hailed the ceasefire which was separately declared by Israel and Hamas, but warned that "with the division of the Palestinian people, this may only be a stopgap, there is no guarantee that this will not happen again."

Earlier on Saturday, he expressed relief over the unilateral ceasefire by Israel and urged the full withdrawal of Israeli troops and Hamas to stop firing rockets.

"I am relieved that the Israeli government has decided to cease hostilities as of midnight GMT," Ban said.

He said that Israel's ceasefire "should be the first step leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza," adding that he wanted the withdrawal "as soon as possible."

Israeli troops began to withdraw from Gaza on Sunday.

Hamas militants also needed to do their part to end the violence by stop firing rockets to southern Israel at once, he said.

The UN chief had been promoting a ceasefire since Israel launched its air offensive on Dec. 27 and embarked on a week-long extensive tour of Middle East on Wednesday to press for Israel and Hamas to accept UN Security Council Resolution 1860 that calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Ban tried to be objective by condemning both Israel and the Islamic groups for the bloodshed in Gaza. He criticized Hamas' rocket firing into Israel, at the same time, condemning Israel's disproportionate response, especially after Israel hit UN-sponsored schools.

"To both sides, I say: just stop now," Ban said at a news conference before departure. "Too many people have died. There has been too much civilian suffering. Too many people, Israelis and Palestinians, live in daily fear of their lives."