Arabs seek UN push to end Israel's Gaza siege

Israel must lift Gaza blockade immediately: UN chief


Arab states will ask the U.N. Security Council to demand an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza, the Arab League chief said on Thursday after ministers met to respond to Israel's attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, as the U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged Israel to lift Gaza blockade immediately.

Defending Israel's enforcement of its blockade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday it was vital for security and would stay in place.

Israeli marines on Monday stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas Islamists and blockaded by Israel. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed in the incident, which sparked widespread condemnation.

"The Arab League will go to the Security Council and demand lifting of the blockade from Gaza," the League secretary general, Amr Moussa, told a news conference after the talks.

"There must be steps taken to end the siege," Moussa said. "We ask all nations to ignore the Gaza blockade and send aid to Gaza to break the blockade."

Turkey, a Muslim country that had been Israel's strategic ally, accused it of "state terrorism" and has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and demanded it lift its blockade.

Those calls have been echoed by European leaders and the United Nations whose Human Rights Council voted to set up an independent fact-finding mission into the incident.

Israel's key backer, the United States, is less outspoken. It has called for calm. Western powers agree with Israel that Iranian-backed Hamas is a threat but say the embargo should not punish the 1.5 million people trapped in the Gaza Strip.

There must be steps taken to end the siege. We ask all nations to ignore the Gaza blockade and send aid to Gaza to break the blockade

Arab League chief Amr Moussa

"Prompt, credible, impartial" investigation

The U.N. secretary general demanded that Israel lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip immediately in the wake of its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Speaking on his return from visits to Brazil, Malawi and Uganda, Ban told reporters that the underlying problem behind Monday's tragedy was the long-running, crippling Israeli siege of the tiny Palestinian coastal enclave, which he described as "counter-productive, unsustainable and wrong."

Ban said Israeli authorities must provide a "full and detailed account" of the commando raid on six ships that tried to break the Gaza siege to deliver some 10,000 tons of supplies.

Ban said he was looking at "various options" to conduct a "prompt, credible, impartial and transparent" investigation of the incident, as called for by the U.N. Security Council.

Stressing the need "to avoid provocations," Ban said the world body raised its concerns with international partners and Israeli authorities.

In recent months, Ban has consistently urged Israel to lift the blockade and allow the United Nations and other humanitarian relief supplies into Gaza.

Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing to Gaza indefinitely on Wednesday -- a step seen as an attempt by Cairo to deflect criticism of its role in imposing the Gaza blockade.

Cairo has kept its border with Gaza largely closed since the Hamas Islamist group, an offshoot of the opposition Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, seized the territory in 2007.

The Jewish state withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but maintained control of all the crossings, with the exception of the Rafah border crossing, which is now policed by Egypt.