January 20th, 2009
02:23 PM ET
8 months ago

U.N. head to Obama: Prioritize Mideast

GAZA CITY, Gaza (CNN) – As Barack Obama took the oath of office Tuesday, the head of the United Nations was touring war-ravaged Gaza and southern Israel - and taking the opportunity to send a message to the new U.S. leader.

A Palestinian man throws debris out of his destroyed house in Jabalia, northern Gaza Strip on January 20, 2009.

"I sincerely hope that President Obama will take as a matter of priority these Middle East policies," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told CNN, when asked his advice for Obama.

Speaking during a visit to Sderot, a city in southern Israel that has endured rocket fire from Hamas for years, Ban said the Bush administration "has been leading and heavily engaged" in the region, and he noted the "Annapolis peace process." But, he added, "Unfortunately, we have not achieved the goals."

As a member of the Middle East Quartet and "as a leader of the world," Ban said, the United States "has full responsibility to lead this peace process so that there's a two-state solution. Israel, Palestinians can live (in) peace
and security side-by-side."

Obama has vowed to move swiftly and has said he was assembling a strong team to be "immediately engaged" on "day one."

Ban used his visit Tuesday to call on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take big steps toward peace as well.

"The repeated violence felt by Palestinians and Israelis is a mark of collective political failure," he said.

Speaking less than three days after Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas each agreed to a cease-fire to end three weeks of intense fighting, Ban had strong words for both sides.

"I have condemned from the outbreak of this conflict the excessive use of force by Israeli forces in Gaza. I view the rocket attacks into Israel as completely unacceptable. We need to restore basic respect for civilians," he said.

More than 1,300 Palestinians died and about 5,400 others were wounded during Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Authority's Central Bureau of Statistics.

Israel has said 13 of its citizens, including 10 soldiers, were killed.

Ban described seeing "heartbreaking scenes" and said he was "deeply grieved by what I have seen today."

He also called on rival Palestinian factions - which have a history of violent struggles - to come together. "Palestinian unity is the framework for international agreements to be restored, for crossings to be opened, for the whole world to help you build Gaza, for elections, for political negotiations with Israel," Ban said.

"I appeal to Fatah, Hamas, to all Palestinian factions, to reunite within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority. The United Nations will work together with a united Palestinian government encompassing Gaza and the West Bank."

The visit to Gaza included a dramatic backdrop - the burned-out shell of a U.N. compound that had been struck by Israeli shells.

"I'm just appalled. I'm not able to describe how I am feeling having seen this site," he said, adding that he could smell the facility still burning. "It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack against the United Nations."

In a meeting last week, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Ban that Israeli forces had come under militant fire from the area and were retaliating.

"I don't think it should have happened and I am very sorry, but the Israeli forces were attacked," he said, adding, "As it happens the response was very harsh and I'm very sorry."

Ban met again Tuesday with Olmert. A spokesperson for Ban said the secretary-general told Olmert that the United Nations will play a pivotal role in providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza as well as aiding long-term recovery and reconstruction.

–CNN's Nic Robertson contributed to this report.


Filed under: Inauguration
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Pat F

    America to UN: SOLVE YOUR OWN PROBLEMS!

    January 20, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  2. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    Yeah, prioritise the mid-east: quit propping up Israel.

    Israel is not our ally. The US gets blamed for every rotten, nasty, murderous thing they do, and this "self-defense" excuse wore out decades ago. Israel is the region's great bully–is there any wonder their victims fight back? And when anyone does fight back, Israel uses that as an excuse to escalate the violence.

    January 20, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  3. Steve, New York City

    Wow – after 8 years of the White House simply deferring our mideast policies to the Likud party, it will be nice to have some balance again.

    January 20, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  4. mf

    Henry Miller of Cary?-learn your history before you speak (type)

    January 20, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  5. Bambolini

    Henry Limmer: I could not have said it better...!

    (quote:)

    Yeah, prioritise the mid-east: quit propping up Israel.

    Israel is not our ally. The US gets blamed for every rotten, nasty, murderous thing they do, and this "self-defense" excuse wore out decades ago. Israel is the region's great bully–is there any wonder their victims fight back? And when anyone does fight back, Israel uses that as an excuse to escalate the violence.

    (unquote)

    January 20, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  6. Rob_In_MN

    "Henry Miller, Cary, NC January 20th, 2009 2:30 pm ET

    Yeah, prioritise the mid-east: quit propping up Israel.

    Israel is not our ally. The US gets blamed for every rotten, nasty, murderous thing they do, and this "self-defense" excuse wore out decades ago. Israel is the region's great bully–is there any wonder their victims fight back? And when anyone does fight back, Israel uses that as an excuse to escalate the violence."

    -

    I couldn't possibly disagree more.

    January 20, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  7. Perusing-through

    You got to hand it to Bush, he pulled it off. He managed to remain AWOL on the mid-east issues for 8-years. He managed to deflect all the hard work needed to bring peace to the middle-east to the next President.

    – – Carter helped bring peace between Egypt and Israel.
    – – Clinton nearly brought peace between Palestine and Israel.
    – – All Bush had to do was to build on Clinton's initiatives and success would have been waiting. But Bush did nothing of significant except thrashed his land in Crawford, Texas.

    January 20, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  8. Viet Vet

    Perhaps Israel is taking bush's lead and killing civilians-unacceptable

    January 20, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  9. piss off UN

    Please Mr. Obama do not listen to the UN as Clinton did. We do not need the idol resolutions with inaction. G.W. Bush has done a lot of the heavy lifting for you to build on by bringing democracy into the region. Please continue to build and grow allies in the mideast and tell the U.N. to go pound sand.

    January 20, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  10. ann

    PRIORITIZE THE US.
    Maybe if we can take care of our own, we can look to help others in the future.

    January 20, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  11. nowarforisrael

    Israel is a rouge state and should have sanctions imposed to prevent arms from being used against children.

    January 20, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  12. earle,florida

    Ah yes, the decider ,"divides" the mid-continents with catastrophy,and carnage,predicated upon "tough-hard-work" ,...

    January 20, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  13. too much injustice

    Israel is getting way with crimes against humanity while we stand and watch. It's disheartening to see innocent people, especially children die because of land. Israel needs to learn to share.

    January 20, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  14. demwit

    The UN obviously needs more money to rebuild Hamas's military..

    January 20, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  15. Focused

    "I sincerely hope that President Obama will take as a matter of priority these Middle East policies," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told CNN, when asked his advice for Obama.

    I sincerely hope our new president will not be distracted by Mr. World Police Moon. America is not the police of the world. Let these people solve thier own problems, and if they decide to war, so be it. Yes, packing children into weapon caches is horrific; yes, destroying a city that allows this kind of thing to happen is horrific. But, these people will never stop fighting, why do we have to be the referee, and for how long? Forever? If the UN decides to stick their neck out, let them. America has bigger problems at home to worry about.

    Bush got distracted with Iraq because he had to remove the mosaic of his father from the floor of the Iraqi-FBI counterpart rotunda, not because of some ideological anti-totalitarian ideal or search for Weapons of Missing Destruction. What's the running tab of $trillions on this stupid goose chase?

    Obama needs to concentrate on issues at home, lowering/eliminating taxes, government setting an example for Americans how live within their means, and restoring our rights and freedoms.

    Most other problems will solve themselves once Americans are unburdened by politicians and corporations robbing them blind.

    January 20, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |