UNITED NATIONS/Gaza City - Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 31 people on Thursday as a major air campaign entered its third day, with most of the bloodshed in the southern city of Khan Yunis. The deaths raised to 82 the overall number of Gazans killed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge early on Tuesday to halt cross-border rocket fire by the Palestinian groups.
While eighty-eight Palestinians, many of them civilians, are reported to have been killed and 339 injured, with 150 homes destroyed or severely damaged and nearly 900 people displaced, he said.
Palestine told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council Thursday the international community was obliged to ensure protection of Palestinian civilians under the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war and occupations, while calling for steps ‘to stop the bleeding’ and reviving their ‘dying hopes’ for an end to the conflict and peace with freedom.
‘Israel has clearly violated and abdicated its responsibility as an occupying power to ensure the safety and well-being of the civilian population under its occupation,’ Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour told a meeting of the 15-member council.
He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked Switzerland - as the depository for Geneva Conventions - to convene a meeting of the parties to the 4th Geneva Convention on the protection of civilian persons in time of war. At least 76 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s Gaza offensive, Palestinian officials said on Thursday, and militants responded with rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and other cities in warfare showing no signs of ending soon.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both sides to exercise maximum restraint, saying that ‘once again, Palestinian civilians are caught between Hamas’ irresponsibility and Israel’s tough response.’
‘I have consistently condemned indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. At the same time, the excessive use of force and endangering of civilian lives are also intolerable,’ Ban said. ‘I continue to condemn the rising number of civilian lives lost in Gaza.’
The most recent hostilities were sparked three weeks ago by the kidnapping of three Jewish students in the occupied West Bank, who were later found dead. Then a teenage Palestinian was kidnapped and his burned body found in a Jerusalem forest.
Ambassador Mansour said Palestinian officials want parties to the 4th Geneva Convention ‘to consider measures to uphold their obligations, under common Article 1 and Article 146 regarding penal sanctions for grave breaches, and enforce the Convention in Occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem.’
Article 1 relates to ensuring respect for the convention and Article 146 requires that the parties ‘undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present convention.’
The Palestinians acceded to the Geneva Conventions and 14 other international treaties and conventions earlier this year. They were eligible to do so after the UN General Assembly upgraded the Palestinians’ status at the United Nations in 2012 from ‘observer entity’ to ‘non-member state,’ a move widely seen as de facto recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
The Palestinians could eventually join the International Criminal Court and lodge complaints against Israel for its occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war. ‘I speak on behalf of the suffering and grieving Palestinian people, who are enduring yet another barrage of death, destruction, trauma and terror,’ Mansour said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called for an end to spiralling violence in Gaza during telephone talks with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu. “The Russian side stressed the necessity to as soon as possible stop armed confrontation, which leads to multiple victims among civilians,” the Kremlin said after the call between the two leaders.
Diplomats said Jordan has circulated a press statement, which is not legally binding, for the Security Council to consider that would call for a cease-fire, as United States moved to prevent any condemnation of Israel, its closest ally.
Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor told the Security Council Israel was taking great measures to avoid harming civilians as it carries out a military operation ‘to remove the threat posed by Hamas by dismantling its military infrastructure.’
‘The Israeli Defence Forces warns Palestinians in Gaza of imminent strikes. At the same time, Hamas instructs these civilians to stand on the roof of buildings and act as human shields,’ Prosor said. ‘They are committing a double war crime: targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians,’ he claimed.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed Thursday for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian fighters, calling on the international community to do everything to halt escalating violence in Gaza.
“It is now more urgent than ever to try to find common ground for a return to calm and a ceasefire understanding,” he told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in New York.
Ban said Hamas and Islamic Jihad had fired more than 550 rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israel in the last few days and that Israel had launched more than 500 air strikes on Gaza.
“Once again civilians are paying the price for the continuation of conflict. My paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians no matter where they are,” he told the Council.
“Israel has legitimate security concerns but I am also concerned at the many Palestinian deaths and injuries as a result of Israeli operations,” he said.
“Today we face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza with the threat of a ground offensive sill palpable and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing,” Ban said.
The UN secretary general said he had been in contact with Israel and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the Arab League, the United States and the European Union. “It is clear that the international community must accelerate efforts to achieve an immediate halt to this escalation and reach a durable ceasefire,” he said.
Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor played the chilling wail of Israel’s air raid warning from his mobile phone and said Hamas was threatening the lives of 3.5 million innocent men, women and children across the Jewish state. “Fifteen seconds that’s how much time you have to run for your life,” he told the Council blaming Hamas for putting the lives of Palestinian as well as Israeli civilians at risk.
Most deaths occurred in Khan Yunis, with a strike at about 1:00 am (2200 GMT) hitting a cafe where football fans were watching the World Cup semi-final between Argentina and the Netherlands.
Nine people were killed, and at least 15 wounded, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
An hour later, Israeli warplanes struck two houses elsewhere in the city, killing four women and four children. Another strike on the city killed a 19-year-old man and his 75-year-old father.
A four-year-old child who was also injured in one of the strikes on Khan Yunis succumbed to her injuries during the day. In central Gaza, a man was killed in a strike on Nusseirat refugee camp.
The United Arab Emirates pledged $25 million in humanitarian aid Thursday to “support the steadfastness” of Palestinians in Gaza.
The Emirati Red Crescent will supervise delivery of the aid, WAM state news agency said, adding that the aid organisation will also set up a field hospital in Gaza “to help the victims of the Israeli aggression”.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on Tuesday, aimed at halting cross-border rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.