United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon greets a Palestinian man, whose house was destroyed, at a UN-run school for refugees in Gaza City on Oct. 14, 2014.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon greets a Palestinian man, whose house was destroyed, at a UN-run school for refugees in Gaza City on Oct. 14, 2014.

UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. secretary-general is warning winter is coming while more than 100,000 Palestinians remain homeless in the Gaza Strip, following the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants earlier this year. The U.N. is urging billions of dollars pledged for Gaza’s reconstruction be quickly turned into concrete assistance.

Ban Ki-moon briefed the U.N. Security Council on his recent trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, saying nothing could prepare him for what he witnessed in Gaza. “I saw mile after mile of wholesale destruction,” he said.

This month, 50 countries pledged $5.4 billion for Gaza at a conference in the Egyptian capital. Ban said the “clock is ticking” to turn those pledges into progress on the ground.

“More than 100,000 residents of Gaza remain homeless, with over 50,000 still sheltering in UNRWA school buildings. Many still lack access to the municipal water network. Blackouts of up to 18 hours per day are common,” he said.

UNRWA is the U.N. Relief and Works Agency that assists Palestinians.  Dozens of UNRWA schools sheltered tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians during the conflict. Many schools were damaged by Israeli bombardments, killing civilians and several staff.

The secretary-general said he wa anticipating a report from the Israeli military about those incidents. He said he was also planning to move forward with an independent board of inquiry to look into the most serious cases, including instances in which Palestinian rockets were found in abandoned U.N. schools.

Ban scolded both parties to the conflict, saying the international community cannot be expected to continually pick up the pieces of another war and the financial costs of rebuilding. “The cycle of build and destroy must end,” he said.

The U.N. chief said both sides must overcome their differences and work towards a two-state solution as the only viable option for a durable peace.

The Palestinians have circulated a draft resolution to Security Council members calling for Israel’s full withdrawal from all Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, by November 2016. No move has been made to call for a vote on the document, which is likely to face opposition from some Council members, including the United States.  

In her remarks to the council meeting, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said Israel and the Palestinians needed to show leadership and compromise, which is more difficult to achieve when both sides take actions that come at the expense of achieving peace.

“We continue to urge all parties to refrain from such actions, including unilateral steps at the United Nations, Israeli settlement activity and provocations at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, where we urge all sides to respect the status quo of this holy site,” she said.

Power said the United States was fully committed to a negotiated final status agreement, saying it was the only viable way forward.

The latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas stopped with a cease-fire on August 27. More than 2,000 Palestinians; including civilians, fighters, and more than 500 children, were killed during the conflict, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel.

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