UN chief praises Israeli southern residents' 'fantastic' peaceful overtures
In penultimate day of four-day Israel tour, Antonio Guterres views a Hamas terror tunnel, meets with residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz on Gaza border and hails their willingness to alleviate Gazans suffering under the yoke of Hamas rule; Despite 'bombardment with rockets,' he said, 'I’ve seen from them an extraordinary message of peace and reconciliation.'
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised Wednesday the residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza border for what he described as their “fantastic example of solidarity, humanity and tolerance” in their request to the UN to help Palestinians in the Gaza Strip emancipate themselves from the draconian rule of Hamas.
Speaking in Tel Aviv following a visit to the southern region of Israel, where he viewed a Hamas terror tunnel near the Kibbutz, held discussions with its residents and received a helicopter tour of the Israel-Gaza border with Israeli officials, Guterres decried the fact that the community has “been bombarded several times” and that “one child has been killed by rockets.”
Praising the residents for repressing feelings of revenge which he said he would expect to arise from the death, Guterres expressed his admiration for their ability to embrace sentiments of peace.
“I had the enormous pleasure when talking to the families of the Kibbutzim to note that instead of what would be natural—a feeling of anger in relation to what is an attack on civilians and a violation of international humanitarian law—I’ve seen from them an extraordinary message of peace and reconciliation,” he said, “asking us to help the Palestinians in Gaza to overcome their tragic humanitarian problems and being themselves ready to help and to provide support to the Palestinian community in Gaza.”
This, he continued, was “a fantastic example of solidarity, of humanity, of tolerance that I want to pay tribute to here publicly today."
During his visit to the Gaza region, as part of his four-day trip, Guterres appealed for large-scale humanitarian aid to Gaza and ordered the immediate release of $4 million from the world body's emergency relief fund.
Speaking at a UN-backed elementary school in the northern Gaza Strip, Guterres also called for unity among the Palestinians' warring factions—Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Fatah, which rules parts of the West Bank.
"The division only undermines the cause of the Palestinian people," he said, adding that he had a dream to "come back to Gaza one day and to see Gaza as part of a Palestine state in peace and prosperity."
"Yesterday, I was in Ramallah. Today, I am in Gaza. They are both parts of the same Palestine. So, I appeal for the unity ... The division only undermines the cause of the Palestinian people," he said in his speech.
Guterres is on his first visit to the region since taking office at the beginning of the year. He has met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders aiming to encourage the resumption of peace talks. But he did not meet with Hamas officials in Gaza. Hamas demanded he approve relief and development programs and pressure Israel about the Palestinian security prisoners it holds.
During his Gaza border visit, Guterres was accompanied by Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, and Aviv Kochavi, Israel's deputy military chief. Danon warned Guterres that Gaza's Hamas rulers have been exploiting international humanitarian aid to dig the terror tunnels aimed at harming Israel.
"Instead of working to ensure a better future for their children, Hamas has turned the residents of Gaza into hostages," Danon said. "At the same time, the Israeli residents of the border communities have stood strong in the face of terror threats, as they build prosperous communities and help further develop the region for the betterment of the next generation."
Hamas, an Islamic terror group that seeks Israel's destruction, has ruled Gaza with an iron fist since seizing control of the coastal area in 2007 from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Repeated attempts for reconciliation have failed.
Hamas has since fought three wars with Israel, firing thousands of rockets into its territory and digging a network of elaborate offensive tunnels. It has largely observed a truce with Israel since the last battle, in 2014, though more radical groups in the territory have carried out occasional attacks.
Egypt and Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover that has crippled the local economy. Israel says it requires the blockade in order to prevent Hamas from smuggling in weapons and equipment to be used against it. In recent years, Egypt has also cracked down on the once-vibrant tunnel trade along the border. Israel began construction of an underground anti-tunnel barrier along the border last year.
Reuters contributed to this article.