The assertion by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Israel's Gaza blockade was causing “unacceptable suffering” seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as Tel Aviv on Sunday reinforced the continuation of its existing policies towards the Palestinians.

Israel had increased Gaza's isolation after the Palestinian Hamas took over the coastal strip in 2007. The Israeli blockade has escalated humanitarian strife in the area since the winter conflict of 2008-9, which badly damaged Gaza's physical infrastructure.

Speaking in Gaza, Mr. Ban said that residents in the strip were staying in “unacceptable, unsustainable conditions”.

He added that he found it “distressing” to see that the blockade had stalled the reconstruction of housing units damaged by the war. Mr. Ban said that rise of extremism, illegitimate commerce and smuggling were the legacy of the blockade.

Mr. Ban visit to the region comes at a time when tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians are running especially high because of Israel's insistence, despite international condemnation, to construct 1600 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem. Speaking earlier in Moscow on behalf of the West Asia Quartet group, comprising the United States, Russia, European Union and the U.N., Mr. Ban condemned the Israeli decision and said in a strongly worded statement that the “annexation of East Jerusalem [by Israel] is not recognised by the international community”.

Disregarding the mounting international pressure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Sunday that “The policy of construction in Jerusalem is the same as in Tel Aviv.”

Heads to U.S.

He added that Israel would continue to build in Jerusalem “as we have done for 42 years”. Mr. Netanyahu heads later on Sunday for Washington, where he is expected to hold talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and would possibly meet President Barack Obama.

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