United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
on Monday that keeping its long-standing blockade of Gaza
would only condemn the area's people to lasting poverty and play into the hands of extremists in the Middle East.
"I urge Israel to lift its harsh restrictions in order to ease the plight of civilians and bring an end to the closure," the UN chief declared in a reference to the blockade which the Israel government argues is a security measure.
"Keeping a large and dense population in unremitting poverty is in nobody's interest except that of the most extreme radicals in the region," he declared.
Israel asserts that the blockade is part of its efforts to prevent the smuggling of weapons and military equipment to Gaza's terror groups.
Ban, whose comments were echoed at the 47-nation council by the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, also urged Israel to respect Palestinian rights and international law and support efforts to build a stable Palestinian state.
A lasting solution to the Middle East conflict required a negotiated agreement ending the 45-year-long occupation and creating "an independent, sovereign, democratic and viable Palestinian state" at peace with Israel, he said.
Ban's speech also criticized what he called "indiscriminate rocket fire"
into Israel from Hamas-controlled
Gaza and serious rights violations there for "the immense human suffering" of its population.
Pillay also criticized the rocket fire from Gaza and "arbitrary detention and ill-treatment" of people held by Palestinian security forces in Gaza and the West Bank.
Hamas alleges that the Palestinian factions are committed to self-restraint, and that their rocket fire is defensive.
The Palestinian Authority's Justice Minister Ali Mhana, welcomed "the constructive criticism of any shortcoming in our performance in the field of human rights."
Reuters contributed to this report
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