UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting, late Wednesday, on the situation in the Gaza Strip, where - earlier in the day - Israel launched an offensive against Hamas militants, killing the group’s military chief.
The rare late-night session was prompted by a request from Egypt and council member Morocco on behalf of the Palestinians.
The 15-nation council was briefed, in private, by U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman and then heard from both the Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors.
After the meeting, at which council members also expressed their perspective on the violence, the president of the council this month, Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said in his capacity as Indian ambassador and not on behalf of the council, that he hopes the meeting would lead to a de-escalation in Gaza. No further council meetings are immediately planned on the matter.
Israel says its offensive is aimed at crippling Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and uses it as a base to fire rockets into southern Israel. Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari was killed in an air strike earlier in the day, as were several Palestinian civilians.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador, Ron Prosor, says his government was acting in self-defense.
“Every state, every nation, every government has a right to defend its citizens," he said. "We will not allow that [rocket attacks] to continue.”
Israel and the United States list Hamas as a terrorist group.
At Wednesday’s meeting, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said there is “no justification” for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel and she urged them to stop immediately.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour warned in his comments to the council that Israel’s military is mobilizing on the ground and that fear and panic are spreading among Palestinian civilians.
Speaking after the meeting, flanked by Arab ambassadors, he told reporters that the attack on his people must stop.
“This aggression has to stop and it has to be stopped immediately. And we condemn this aggression against our people," he said. "If this aggression stops tonight, then the mission of the Security Council was partially accomplished. If it is not, we will come back to the Security Council again and again.”
Ambassador Mansour says Wednesday's dead included at least three Palestinian children, including an 11-month-old infant, as well as a 19-year-old pregnant woman.