Palestinian Protesters Throw Shoes at UN Chief During Gaza Visit

Posted February 2nd, 2012 at 9:40 am (UTC-5)
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Palestinian protesters angered by the policies of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon threw shoes, sticks and stones at his convoy as he entered the Gaza Strip for a brief visit on Thursday.

About 40 protesters including relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails confronted Mr. Ban's convoy as it drove through the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border. They shouted slogans and held signs criticizing the U.N. chief for refusing to meet with them and accusing him of being biased toward Israel.

At least 5,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons, many for security offenses. Their relatives have long campaigned for their release.

Security officers of the Hamas militant group that runs Gaza pushed aside the protesters and allowed Mr. Ban's convoy to enter the territory. No one was injured in the incident.

In a Gaza news conference later Wednesday, Mr. Ban thanked the territory's people for their “warm welcome,” drawing laughter from journalists. He also said he shares the protesters' concern and frustration with what he called a “very dire economic, social and humanitarian problem” in Gaza.

The U.N. chief called on Israel to lift all restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza. Israel has eased the restrictions in recent years in response to international pressure, but says remaining measures are necessary to stop Hamas from acquiring weapons or weapon-making materials. Egypt also imposes some restrictions on its border with Gaza.

Mr. Ban also called for a halt to the firing of rockets from Gaza at Israeli communities, saying the killing of civilians in unacceptable. The Israeli military says Gaza militants fired eight rockets into Israeli territory late Wednesday.

No injuries were reported. Israel and Gaza militants have maintained an informal truce for three years, but rockets have been fired at Israel periodically, drawing Israeli military strikes on militant targets.

Mr. Ban is in the region to try to promote the resumption of formal Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that have been stalled since 2010. He met Wednesday with Israeli officials and leaders of the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. He did not schedule any meetings with Hamas, a group labeled as a terrorist organization by Israel and Western powers.

In Gaza, Mr. Ban met with U.N. relief officials running a school and a housing project in the southern town of Khan Younis. U.N. aid workers have been trying to help residents rebuild communities damaged in a brief December 2008 to January 2009 war between Israel and Hamas.