• UN continues to seek ceasefire in Gaza

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    UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations continues to seek a halt in Gaza violence — if only temporary — despite the breakdown earlier Friday of a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire agreed only hours earlier between the Israelis and Palestinians, said UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman Friday.

    “The ceasefire seems to have lasted for maybe 90 minutes this morning, a tragic loss of opportunity for both sides to end the cycle of fear and suffering,” he told reporters here. “We need to get back to that.”

    The world organization said it had received reports by midday in New York that more than 70 Palestinian civilians and two Israeli soldiers had been killed and one Israeli soldier captured.

    “It’s alarming to see the killing in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “We just want to see the violence stopped.”

    The United Nations said 1,435 people had been killed in Gaza as of midday Friday and 80 percent of them were civilians.

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned “in the strongest terms the reported violation by Hamas of the mutually agreed humanitarian ceasefire.”

    However, the statement released by his spokesman said Ban noted that “the UN has no independent means to verify exactly what happened.”

    “Instead of seeing calm today, instead of seeing Palestinian families out, able to tend to their daily needs, burying their dead, caring for their wounded, instead we see escalation,” Feltman said.

    “The secretary-general is quite upset about this and we’re looking to see how the same partners can work together to try to get back together to where we hoped to be last (Friday) night when the statement (ceasefire announcement) was released,” he said, referring to intermediaries he identified as Egypt, Qatar and Turkey. “This is not going to be easy.”

    But UN contacts go beyond intermediary states to Israel and the militant Palestinians in control of Gaza, Hamas, labeled terrorists by some states including Israel and the United States.

    Feltman said he and Robert Serry, the UN peace coordinator in Jerusalem, are “talking constantly. We have ways of reaching out to all the parties. We have ways to reach all the parties directly and indirectly.”

    “We need to be able to have channels of communication where all parties know our views — and that includes Hamas — where we are able to hear from all parties,” the undersecretary-general said. “Hamas knows how to get information to us, to reach us, to debate things with us. We know how to reach Hamas.”

    He also said the secretary-general “continues to talk with regional leaders” about restoring the short-lived ceasefire in the latest round of violence which began on July 8.

    But, “the active diplomacy over the last 48 hours which led to us receiving the assurances (from the Israelis and Hamas) was much more working with the parties themselves, as well as the Americans, Egyptians, Qataris and Turks,” Feltman said. “Others played a role as well but the concentration was on the countries I just mentioned.”

    “We are profoundly disappointed that those assurances did not lead to a sustained 72-hour ceasefire and that instead we are seeing an escalation right now,” He said.

    “We want to get to the point where we are solving the core issues that concern both parties,” Feltman said. “We want to get there as quickly as we can, but what we want to do now is stop the killing, stop the violence, end the cycle of fear and suffering that’s affecting both sides so that we can talk about those issues.

    “The secretary-general wants the UN to play its role for the long term stability, economic recovery, reconstruction in Gaza,” the undersecretary General said, adding that Ban, wanting to address mutual concerns, now cannot say when because the concentration now is on “trying to stop the violence to create the political space.”

    Feltman said the invitation by the Egyptians for talks in Cairo “would have provided an opportunity to start talking about the bigger issues (and) was based on the assumption that there would be quiet, the quiet would create the political space for discussion about how to address the larger issues.”

    “I’m not sure what the Egyptians are thinking right now,” he said. “The parties had responded to invitations from Egypt. These talks were going to be hard.”

    “The chance for success of these talks rested on quiet, rested on the 72 hour ceasefire,” Feltman said. “Right now we have escalation instead of ceasefire.”

    “I myself have a hard time envisioning how these talks would work right now because there was a substantive and logical linkage between the 72-hour unconditional humanitarian ceasefire and the attempt to make it more durable by addressing some core issues and right now that essential first part isn’t there.” PNA

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