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UN Security Council Calls for Immediate Gaza Cease-fire

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Palestinians gather as a bulldozer searches for victims amongst the rubble of a house, which police said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014.

Palestinians gather as a bulldozer searches for victims amongst the rubble of a house, which police said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014.

The U.N. Security Council emerged from an emergency session late Sunday on the worsening situation in Gaza, expressing “serious concern” about the nearly two weeks of fighting between Israel and the Islamist Hamas group that has cost more than 400 lives.

“The members of the Security Council expressed serious concern about the growing number of casualties. The members of the security council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities,'' acting council president, Rwandan U.N. Ambassador Eugene Gasana, told reporters, after an emergency meeting of the 15-member council.

The council met at the request of Jordan, which proposed a more strongly worded draft resolution for consideration.

The resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, expressed “grave concern” at the high number of civilians killed in Gaza, including children, and called for an immediate cease-fire, “including the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from the Gaza Strip.”

Deadly day

The first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting on Sunday killed at least 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and forced thousands of terrified Palestinian civilians to flee their neighborhoods.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has called Israel's latest incursion atrocious, and said it must do far more to protect civilians.

The draft resolution called for the protection of civilians, the lifting of the “Israeli restrictions imposed on the movement of persons and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip” and immediate humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.

However, Gasana emerged from the meeting and expressed a more limited statement: “The members of the Security Council called for respect of international humanitarian law including protection of civilians. The members of the Security Council emphasized the need to improve the humanitarian situation, including through humanitarian pauses.”

Palestinian Ambassador to the U.N. Riyad Mansour said his side had hoped for a Security Council resolution condemning aggression against its people and calling for their immediate protection.

“The fact that the Security Council agreed on the elements that were read to you by the president is a test for Israel if they are going to abide by all these elements and to stop this aggression against our people," Mansour said.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said before the meeting ended that the only way for Israel's military operation to end is for all rocket fire from Gaza to cease.

“The equation is very simple, if it’s going to be quiet in Israel, it’s going to be quiet in Gaza. So it’s going to last as long as Hamas stops firing indiscriminately thousands of rockets to Israeli highly populated areas and cities," Prosor said.

Casualties increase

Israeli tanks shelled militant targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday and a woman died in an airstrike after the bloodiest day of a nearly two-week military offensive that showed no signs of abating, despite global calls for a truce.

The French news agency AFP reported that a family of nine Palestinians, including seven children, were killed Monday by an Israeli airstrike on their home in Gaza, said emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra.

Two American men were among the 13 Israeli soldiers killed in the conflict in Gaza on Sunday, the U.S. State Department said.

Max Steinberg, 24, a native of California's San Fernando Valley, was a sniper in the Golani Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces, according to a letter sent by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to its email list.

Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, of South Padre Island in Texas, was also fighting in the Golani Brigade, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Southwest Maya Kadosh said Carmeli moved to Israel four years ago and added that the consulate helped his family get a flight there Sunday.

Later Monday, air-raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv as rockets were fired from Gaza.

Palestinian health officials said the death toll since July 8 had reached at least 508, including many civilians.

In its push against militants in Shejaia, Israel also suffered its worst losses in the offensive it launched to stop rocket fire from Gaza, with 13 soldiers killed, for a total of 18, and two civilian deaths.

Aid group

International aid group Doctors Without Borders said Sunday that its facilities in Gaza are operating far below their capacity because bombings are keeping people from being able to access the sites.

The group said its workers witnessed two paramedics killed while trying to retrieve wounded people, and that an airstrike hit 300 meters from one of its clearly identified vehicles.

Israel's army said it had been targeting militants from Gaza's dominant Hamas group, charging that they fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centers there. The army said it had warned civilians to leave two days earlier.

The one-day death toll was the Israeli military's highest since a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. It also represented the largest number of Palestinians killed since fighting began on July 8.

The Israeli military said it was checking a televised announcement in Gaza from Hamas's armed wing that it had captured an Israeli soldier during the fighting in Shejaia.

But Prosor, the Israeli U.N. ambassador, dismissed the report as untrue.

“There's no kidnapped Israeli soldier and those rumors are untrue,” Prosor told reporters, as the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session about the Gaza crisis.

“Qassam Brigades captured a Zionist soldier,” said Abu Ubaida, the masked spokesman of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, on Sunday.

He identified the soldier as Shaul Aron and recited what he said was Aron's identity tag number. He gave no other evidence the soldier was in the custody of the Islamist militants.

Aron would be the first Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza since 2011, when Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to free Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was held for more than five years after his 2006 capture in a cross-border raid.

The bloodshed in Shejaia, the worst for the Palestinians in 12 days of conflict, has touched off renewed Western efforts to seek a truce to resolve the crisis.

Kerry to discuss crisis

Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East as the Obama administration attempts to bolster regional efforts to reach a cease-fire and sharpens its criticism of Hamas in its conflict with Israel.

The State Department said Kerry would leave early Monday for Egypt where he will join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that had been agreed to in November 2012.

In a statement Sunday evening, department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. and its international partners were “deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation, and the loss of more innocent life.”

The Obama administration has toned down its earlier rebuke of Israel for attacks on the Gaza Strip that have killed civilians, including children, although both President Barack Obama and Kerry expressed concern about the rising death toll.

The U.S. will urge the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement that would halt nearly two weeks of fighting with Israel. More than 430 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed in that time.

Thousands flee fighting

Residents fled Sunday's fighting along streets strewn with bodies and rubble, many of them taking shelter in Gaza's Shifa hospital.

Thousands streamed out of Shejaia, some on foot and others piling into the backs of trucks and sitting on the hoods of cars filled with families trying to get away. Several people rode out of the neighborhood in the shovel of a bulldozer.

The Shifa hospital director, Naser Tattar, said 17 children, 14 women and four elderly were among 62 Palestinians killed, and about 400 people were wounded in the Israeli assault.

Palestinian fighters kept up rocket fire at Israel on Sunday, though the salvoes seemed fewer than on previous days.

The Israeli military said 87 rockets were launched from Gaza at Israel on Sunday, and 16 were harmlessly shot down by an Iron Dome interceptor system. The numbers of such shootings have topped 100 on previous days of the offensive.

Israel would press on with its campaign with the goals of “restoring quiet” to its southern cities and the Tel Aviv business area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a news conference Sunday evening.

Israel also sought to “significantly” damage Hamas and other militant groups' infrastructure in Gaza, he said, adding:

“We are undeterred. We shall continue the operation as long as is required.”

Larger presence in Gaza

The Israeli military said it beefed up its presence in Gaza on Sunday, with a focus on destroying missile stockpiles and the vast tunnel system Hamas built along the frontier with Israel.

“I estimate that within two or three days the major part of the tunnels will have been destroyed,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told the news conference where Netanyahu spoke.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said 81,000 displaced people had now taken refuge in 61 UNRWA shelters in Gaza.

The Western-backed Abbas in April struck a reconciliation deal with Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from forces loyal to his Fatah movement. The agreement led to the formation of a Palestinian unity government and Israel's pullout from U.S.-brokered peace talks.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.

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