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UN urges end to Gaza violence; death toll tops 270

Reuters
Dec 28, 2008 at 03:27pm IST

United Nations: The UN Security Council called early on Sunday for an immediate end to all violence in Gaza after the death toll climbed past 270 on the second day of Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rocket and mortar fire by Gaza militants.

"The members of the Security Council expressed serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza and called for an immediate halt to all violence," said a statement read out by council president Neven Jurica, Croatia's ambassador.

"The members called on the parties to stop immediately all military activities." Palestinian medical officials said on Sunday that 271 Palestinians had been killed in more than 24 hours of Israeli attacks on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

HEAVY GUNS OUT: A file photo of Israeli soldiers near Kibbutz Sufa, outside the Gaza Strip.

Since the operation began, one Israeli had been killed by Palestinian rocket fire. Diplomats said the Security Council meeting had been requested by Libya, the only Arab country on the council.

The statement, agreed upon after four hours of closed-door council discussions, called on all parties to address "the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza." It urged them to take necessary measures, including the opening of border crossings, to ensure Gaza's people were supplied with food, fuel and medical treatment.

Israel has been restricting the amount of supplies that have been allowed in. Council members "stressed the need for the restoration of calm in full"—a reference to a six-month ceasefire ended by Hamas a week ago—to open the way for a Palestinian-Israeli political solution.

Diplomats from several countries said they had preferred a cautiously worded statement on which all 15 council members could agree to a public debate where they would have clashed angrily over who was to blame for the Gaza violence.

Cautious statement

"We have had over the years many occasions when we had long meetings of the Security Council, strong statements were made and they did not affect anything," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. "Our hope and our expectation is that this modest ... press statement is going to have an impact." But within minutes of the statement being issued diplomats gave conflicting interpretations of it.

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Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said it was clearly aimed at Israel. He told reporters Palestinians would now be waiting to see if the Jewish state stopped its "aggression." If Israel did not do so within 24 or 48 hours, he said, "We, the Arab nations and our friends ... will come back knocking on the door of the Security Council in order to bring Israel into compliance."

But US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the "way forward" was for the Gaza militants to stop rocket attacks on Israel. "Clearly in that context Israel has the right of self-defence and nothing in this press statement should be read as anything but that," he told journalists.

Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said Israel would "wait and see if Hamas is really going to abide by the ... statement of the Security Council and we'll draw the conclusions," but did not make clear whether Israel would halt its offensive.

Israel "did not think it was so urgent for the Security Council after not being involved in the situation for such a long time to rush and call for the end of an operation which is taking place in order to protect our citizens," said Shalev.

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