Friday 09 January 2009
The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution early on Thursday calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel's full withdrawal after a 13-day offensive, but the United States abstained in the vote.
Agence France Presse - Israel was under intense pressure Friday to end its two-week-old offensive in the Gaza Strip after the UN Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire as the death toll from the war rose past 760.
After the latest deadly violence prompted a UN relief agency to halt its work in the Palestinian territory, the 15-member Security Council gave its near unanimous approval to a resolution calling for an "immediate, durable" ceasefire leading to the "full withdrawal" of Israeli forces.
The text also "calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment" and welcomes initiatives aimed at "creating and opening humanitarian corridors and other mechanisms for the sustained delivery of humanitarian aid."
The United States, Israel's main ally, abstained in the vote but refrained from wielding its veto to block a resolution which had been agreed upon after lengthy negotiations between Arab and Western foreign ministers.
The vote will ratchet up the pressure on Israel to end an offensive that has so far claimed the lives of 768 Palestinians, according to medics in Gaza, making it the deadliest ever offensive by Israel on the tiny coastal strip.
Even as the council debated the resolution, the sound of Israeli air raids and fresh explosions could be heard in Gaza City although there were no immediate reports of casualties.
About 20 people were killed in Israeli raids on Thursday, including a Ukrainian and a Moroccan woman, Gaza medics said. Rescuers also found many bodies in debris in Gaza City while searching during a brief lull in fighting.
Three soldiers were also killed, taking Israel's death toll to 11 military and three civilians.
Israel was also on alert in the north of the country after three rockets were fired from Lebanon, in addition to new attacks from Gaza.
Israel launched its offensive in a bid to halt rocket attacks from Gaza and the smuggling of weapons into the territory which is run by the Islamists of Hamas.
However there has been mounting criticism over the death of civilians in the offensive with around 50 people killed in Israeli attacks on three schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) earlier in the week.
UNRWA decided to suspend operations in the enclave on Thursday after a UN convoy was hit by two Israeli tank shells, killing a truck driver.
The agency distributes food to about half of Gaza's 1.5 million people as well as running schools and other centres.
"Operations will remain suspended until Israeli authorities can guarantee the safety and security of our staff," spokesman Christopher Gunness told AFP.
The International Committee of the Red Cross also accused Israel of failing to help the wounded after rescuers found four small children clinging to their dead mothers during the second daily three-hour suspension of bombing.
It said Israeli soldiers tried to force rescuers to leave when they reached the grisly scene in Gaza City's Zeitun neighbourhood on Wednesday, four days after safe-passage had been requested.
Israel -- which has blamed Hamas for civilian deaths in Gaza, saying the Islamists use them as human shields -- has said it was investigating the convoy death and the Red Cross incident.
Meanwhile three rockets were fired into northern Israel from Lebanon on Thursday, injuring two women and sparking a new military alert.
Israeli artillery retaliated and the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon sent reinforcements to the region.
Hamas and Hezbollah, which was the target of an Israeli offensive in 2006, denied involvement in the attack.
Israeli leaders gave a restrained response and media cited military sources as saying the rockets were probably fired by Palestinian militants.
|Liveleak on Facebook|