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UN calls for immediate Gaza ceasefire at emergency session

AFP

The UN Security Council, meeting at an emergency late-night session Sunday, called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza following the bloodiest day of the current Israeli offensive on the Palestinian enclave.

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The closed-door session came after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Israeli shelling of a Gaza City suburb as “an atrocious action” and called for an end to the latest fighting, which has killed over 500 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials.

Sunday was the bloodiest day for both sides since the latest offensive began, with 13 Israeli soldiers and more than 100 Palestinians killed.

In a statement released early Monday, the UN Security Council expressed “serious concern” about the casualties in nearly two weeks of fighting.

“The members of the Security Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities," Rwandan UN Ambassador Eugene Gasana told reporters in New York. Rwanda is the acting head of the 15-member council.

A draft statement by Jordan ahead of the session 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.

But Jordan's proposed resolution was not discussed.

The Palestinian UN envoy, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, expressed disappointment with the final Security Council statement. “We were hoping for the Security Council to adopt a resolution to condemn the aggression against our people,'' he told reporters. But he said the statement was “a test'' for Israel to see if it would comply.

Reporting from Gaza City just hours after the UN session ended, FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick said there was no sign of any cessation of hostilities on the ground. “Just moments ago, we heard some pretty heavy shelling coming from the [Israeli naval] vessels posted just near the coast of Gaza. That’s an indication that Israel is continuing its strikes over the Palestinian enclave,” said Fenwick.

Pounding a Gaza City suburb

The UN statement followed a massive Israeli offensive on the densely-populated Gaza Strip with Israeli tanks shelling targets on the ground while air strikes continued.
Rescue workers in the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis on Monday pulled out 20 bodies from the rubble of Palestinian homes flattened by Israeli airstrikes. Two people were pulled out alive, according to health officials.

In northern Gaza, which has been some of the worst violence, Israeli forces killed at least 10 Palestinians trying to infiltrate into Israel via tunnels, according to an Israeli military spokeswoman.

Some of the worst affected areas in Sunday’s offensive included the Shejaia neighbourhood of Gaza City and the Beit Hanoun area in northeastern Gaza.

Palestinian health officials said the death toll since the latest offensive began July 8 had reached over 500, most of them civilians, including women and children.

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 – a shocking loss for a country where the armed forces form the bedrock of the nation. The dead included two Israeli soldiers with joint US nationalities.

The one-day death toll was the Israeli military's highest since a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Sunday's death toll is higher than that sustained during the entire three-week duration of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, the last time Israel sent troops into Gaza.

Israel denies Hamas report of soldier’s kidnapping

Meanwhile Israel’s UN Ambassador Ron Prossor early Monday denied reports that the Palestinian militant group Hamas had kidnapped an Israeli soldier during the fighting in Shejaia.

In a televised announcement late Sunday, the armed wing of Hamas, the al Qassam Bridages, said they had captured an Israeli soldier named Shaul Aron.

Reporting from Gaza, FRANCE 24’s Fenwick said the announcement Sunday evening “generated huge scenes of joy in Gaza, people shooting [celebratory rounds] in the air, shouts of joy also coming from loudspeakers on mosques all over the Palestinian enclave,” he explained.

The latest offensive comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry heads to the region in a renewed push for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Kerry heads to Egypt Monday, where he will join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that had been agreed to in November 2012.

Reporting from the Egyptian capital of Cairo, FRANCE 24’s Ashraf Khalil said there is likely to be a renewed diplomatic effort for a ceasefire plan. “We’re definitely going to see another proposal, some sort of Plan B proposal,” said Khalil. “The question is, is it going to be measurably different from the previous proposals that have already been rejected by Hamas.”

Diplomatic action moves from Egypt to Qatar

Egypt’s standing as a Middle East negotiator has considerably declined since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammed Morsi.

FRANCE 24’s Ashraf Khalil reporting from Cairo

Two earlier ceasefire proposals made over the past two weeks have been rejected by Hamas as being a unilateral Israeli declaration without any guarantees for the lifting of an Israeli embargo on Gaza.

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Qatari capital of Doha on Monday.

“At this point, Egypt has not been effective [as a negotiator]. That seems to be why some of the action is shifting to Doha,” said Khalil, noting that during a visit to Egypt over the weekend, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, “spoke to Mahmoud Abbas and one of the things they talked about was bringing more players – bring Qatar, bringing Turkey – into this because the Egypt-Hamas axis which was useful and effective dating back to [former Egyptian strongman Hosni] Mubarak’s days appears to be not bearing fruit.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

 

 

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