The UN Security Council, which met overnight Saturday, expressed "serious concern at the escalation" of violence in the Gaza strip and called for an "immediate halt" to all military activities there.
AFP - The UN Security Council early Sunday urged an immediate end to all military activities in the Gaza Strip, scene of deadly Israeli air strikes, and called on the parties to address the humanitarian crisis in the territory.
Croatia's UN Ambassador Neven Jurica read out a non-binding statement on behalf of the 15-member body that "called for an immediate halt to all violence" and on the parties "to stop immediately all military activities."
In a rare example of council unity over the divisive issue of Gaza, the text was approved after five hours of closed-door consultations called by Libya, the lone Arab member of the council, in response to the Israeli air raids.
Earlier Saturday, Israeli warplanes hammered targets of the Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza in retaliation for rocket fire, killing at least 230 people in one of the bloodiest days of the decades-long Middle East conflict.
Diplomats said a compromise statement initially put forward by Russia was watered down at the urging of the United States. The final text approved by consensus mentions neither Israel nor the Islamist movement Hamas by name.
It called "for all parties to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza and to take necessary measures, including opening of border crossings, to ensure the continuous provision of humanitarian supplies, including supplies of food, fuel, and provision of medical treatment."
The council also stressed the need for "the restoration of calm in full which will open the way for finding a political solution to the problems existing in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement."
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who played a key role in securing consensus on the text, said the council sought to deliver a message that "will hopefully stop the vicious cycle of violence."
His US counterpart, Zalmay Khalilzad, sprang to Israel's defense, saying its air attacks were ordered in self-defense after rocket firing into the Jewish state from Gaza.
"Israel has the right of self-defense. Nothing in this press statement should be read as anything but that," he noted.
Ryad Mansour, the Palestinian observer to the UN, said the council issued a clear statement demanding a ceasefire and that the border crossings from Israel into Gaza be opened.
Israel imposed a blockade after Hamas seized power in Gaza last year, but let in dozens of truckloads of humanitarian aid on Friday.
Mansour warned that if Israel did not comply with the council's ceasefire call, Arab nations and their supporters "will come back before the council in order to bring Israel into compliance."
But Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told reporters that her country acted in self-defense.
"We are going to protect our citizens," she said. "The only party to blame is Hamas."
She evaded a question as to whether Israel would comply with the council's call, saying: "We will wait and see whether Hamas is going to abide."
"We are happy about the result," said France's deputy ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
He said the statement underscored the "crucial importance of letting the humanitarian assistance be delivered to the Palestinian people."
Earlier White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters that "If Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel, then Israel would not have a need for strikes in Gaza."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed deep concern about the escalating violence in Gaza and urged that the ceasefire "be restored immediately and fully respected."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply alarmed" by the bloodshed in Gaza and appealed for "an immediate halt to all violence."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak however warned that "Operation Cast Lead" against Hamas, which has also left some 700 wounded, would continue "as long as necessary."
And in Damascus, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel and promised new suicide attacks.
Hamas has not carried out a suicide attack in Israel since January 2005.
Date created : 2008-12-28