Gaza blockade is 'collective punishment', says UN chief

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday criticised Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, describing it as "collective punishment".

The UN chief made the comment on his final trip to Palestinian territories before his tenure expires.

Ban said the blockade of the Palestinian enclave "suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts."

"It is a collective punishment for which there must be accountability," he said.

"We must speak openly about the unacceptable hardships faced by the people of Gaza in light of the humiliation, occupation and siege, as well as the division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank," Ban added.

The outgoing head of the UN also held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Ban condemned a recent wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks since October, which he called "terrorism", but said the causes of the violence should be addressed.

"We cannot ignore key underlying causes of violence: growing Palestinian anger, the paralysis of the peace process, the nearly a half-century of occupation," Ban said alongside Netanyahu.

He also urged Netanyahu to take "courageous steps" toward peace in order "to prevent a one-state reality or perpetual conflict that is incompatible with realising the national aspirations of the Israelis and Palestinian people."

Later in the evening Ban met Abbas at the Palestinian leader's Ramallah headquarters and again spoke of the difficulties Palestinians face.

"I'm aware that many Palestinians question the feasibility of reaching a just and lasting peace with Israel. They hear talk of peace but they see violence," he said.

"They still live a life of checkpoints, permits, blockade, demolitions and profound economic hardships faced with growing indignities and the humiliating occupation that will soon enter its 50th year."

Abbas said Palestinians seek peace based on a two-state solution and called for "international protection" for his people.

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Video of the Week New Clashes Erupt Between Israeli Security Forces, Muslim Worshippers

Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after clashes with police

The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs. The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives.

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