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UN says Gaza crisis threatens peace process in the Middle East

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The current crisis in the Gaza Strip is blocking efforts for a long-term peace settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and threatens the Middle East peace process in general, the UN political chief said.
NEW YORK, January 31 (RIA Novosti) - The current crisis in the Gaza Strip is blocking efforts for a long-term peace settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and threatens the Middle East peace process in general, the UN political chief said.

The United Nations Security Council held an open debate on Wednesday after failing to reach an agreement earlier this week on a Gaza statement due to differences between the U.S. and Arab nations.

In his Council briefing on the Palestinian issue, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe said: "Continued efforts to progress along the Annapolis track had been overshadowed by an intensification of violence in Gaza and southern Israel."

"The month [of January] had been one of heavy bloodshed, with a total of 108 Palestinians having been killed and 229 injured in conflict with the Israel Defense Forces. Three Israelis had been killed and 24 injured by Palestinian militants," he said.

Meanwhile, he said the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed by Israel in mid-January, threatened to seriously disrupt UN humanitarian aid to 1.4 million Gaza residents.

Only 32 truckloads of goods have entered the territory since January 18, as compared to a daily average of 93 trucks during the first two weeks of 2008 and 250 before June 2007.

During the debate, Council members denounced the "collective punishment" of civilians and expressed hope that the flow of goods across the border would quickly resume.

However, Israel's representative reiterated that Hamas "directed its terrorist campaign from the Gaza Strip in order to menace, maim, and murder innocent civilians" and the Israeli response to Palestinian rocket attacks had been justified.

More than 230,000 Israelis live within range of Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and since Hamas seized power in June last year, more than 4,200 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired at Israel's southern cities and towns.

Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin firmly condemned on Wednesday both the rocket fire into southern Israel and the ensuing blockade of Gaza, emphasizing the need for both sides to demonstrate resolve and political will as the only way to curb violence and terrorism.

"The current crisis in Gaza erodes mutual trust and this is a cause of our deep concern," Churkin said.

The UN Security Council concluded debates without adopting any document.

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