Flotilla Incident Highlights Need for Radical Shift on Gaza, Says UN Envoy

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–15 June 2010 – A top United Nations official today stressed the need for a fundamental change in the situation in Gaza, noting that the recent tragedy involving an aid flotilla intercepted by Israel is just another reminder of why the blockade of the Strip is unsustainable and must end.

“The flotilla crisis is the latest symptom of a failed policy,” Robert Serry, the Special Coordination for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council in an open briefing. “The closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip needs to come to an end.”

The 31 May incident in which Israel raided a six-ship convoy in international waters that was carrying humanitarian goods and activists and heading for Gaza resulted in the deaths of nine civilians and the wounding of at least 30 others.

Mr. Serry announced that the UN is ready to accept responsibility, on an exceptional basis, to take possession of and responsibility for the cargo of the three Turkish-registered vessels and ensure its distribution in Gaza for humanitarian purposes.

He said in remarks to reporters later in the day that efforts have focused on trying to look forward and trying to turn this crisis into an opportunity to really start to address the manifold issues confronting Gaza.

“It is much more important to turn our attention to what really needs to be done and needs to happen now, which is an effective end of what has been called the closure policy or the blockade of Gaza.”

The envoy noted in his briefing that there is now a welcome international consensus on Gaza. It is fully agreed by the diplomatic Quartet – comprising the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – that there must be a fundamental change to the situation.

He said he had been informed by Israel that it is conducting a review of its Gaza policy, and stressed that it is vital that this results in an end to measures which punish the civilian population.

“The basic principle that should guide the policy on Gaza is clear. Everything should be allowed into Gaza, unless there is a specific and legitimate security reason,” he stated.

He added that Israel should therefore move from the current policy, where only about 116 items are approved to enter Gaza, to a policy in which all goods and materials are able to enter Gaza unless there is a legitimate security rationale against it.

“In addition, we strongly hope that exports would now be facilitated at a proper scale, and that the categories of people permitted to enter and leave Gaza would be significantly expanded,” he told the 15-member Council.

Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza what it called security reasons after Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.

“We are also making directly clear to interlocutors in Gaza that, just as we urge a significant change in Israel’s policy at the crossings, we would be looking for a significant change from Hamas in its policies as well, particularly in declaring an extended ceasefire and acting to prevent all forms of violence against Israel,” said Mr. Serry.

In addition to addressing the issues affecting Gaza, he said it is crucial not to lose track of the need to sustain the US-mediated proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians which began last month, and buttress them with concrete progress on the ground in both the West Bank and Gaza with the aim of moving to direct talks as soon as possible.

Positive measures on the ground, he said, would include Israel freezing all settlement activity and Palestinian action to combat violence and terror and continue with reforms.