UNITED NATIONS/GAZA CITY - World efforts to broker a ceasefire in war-torn Gaza gathered pace Monday as Israel pressed a blistering 14-day assault on the enclave, pushing the Palestinian death toll to more than 560.
Washington and the United Nations demanded an ‘immediate ceasefire’ in the battered Palestinian enclave, but there was no let-up in the Israeli offensive with another 50 Gazans killed in a series of strikes.
With growing concern over the number of civilian deaths, UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo for top-level talks on ending the hostilities, with US Secretary of State John Kerry also expected to fly in later Monday.
At an urgent meeting on Gaza, the UN Security Council urged an ‘immediate cessation of hostilities’ in a call echoed by US President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The UNSC met at the request of Jordan, which is understood to have proposed a strongly worded draft resolution for consideration.
But in the face of stiff opposition by the United States and its allies, the 15-member Council could only agree on ‘elements to the press,’ the weakest form of action.
The United Nations Human Rights Council said it would hold an emergency session on Israel’s two-week-old offensive in Gaza on Wednesday at the request of Egypt, Pakistan and the Palestinians.
The request was signed by envoys from Egypt on behalf of a diplomatic grouping of Arab countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the Palestinian observer mission to the United Nations.
Following the deadliest day in Gaza since 2009, when at least 140 Palestinians were killed on Sunday, medics pulled another 68 bodies from the rubble early Monday, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
Ashraf al-Qudra said air strikes killed 50 people across the enclave on Monday.
And the Israeli army said another seven soldiers had been killed in fighting in Gaza, raising the overall Israeli death toll to 27, including 25 troops.
The army also said its troops had killed more than 10 fighters who had infiltrated southern Israel through two tunnels, sparking a firefight that reportedly wounded several soldiers.
An Israeli air strike in Gaza City killed 11 people on Monday, including five children, medics said.
The strike hit a residential tower block in the centre of the city, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, adding another person was killed in a separate, simultaneous strike in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
The latest deaths included six people killed in two artillery strikes, three of whom died in the southern city of Rafah and another three in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.
Of the 50 people killed on Monday, around a third of them were children, Qudra said.
Seven children were among nine dead in an early air raid on a house in Rafah, and another four children were killed in another strike on a house in Gaza City that killed nine people.
And Israeli tank shells slammed into a hospital in Deir al-Balah, killing four people, among them doctors, Qudra said, indicating at least 70 people were wounded.
Another 28 people were killed in a series of air strikes and tank shelling across the strip.
Of the 68 bodies recovered on Monday, 13 were from Shejaiya, hiking the death toll from a blistering Sunday attack to 74. Qudra said the vast majority were women, children and the elderly.
Another 23 of the bodies were pulled from a three-storey house belonging to the Abu Jamaa family in the southern city of Khan Yunis which was hit on Sunday, raising the overall death toll from a single strike to 28, Qudra said.
Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas held talks in Doha, pledging in their first meeting since the launch of Israel’s assault to work together for a ceasefire. In Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah offered his full backing to “Hamas’s strategy” in a telephone conversation with Meshaal, describing its conditions for ending the violence as “just”.
The State Department said two US citizens were killed in Gaza violence and released their names, but did not immediately disclose their occupations.
The UN chief met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha, the first leg of a Middle East peace trip.
Ban also said in Doha, “As I travel the region, I will continue to press for an [immediate] ceasefire – an immediate end to the Israeli military operation in Gaza and the rocket fire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
“I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians,” he said.
Turkey on Monday declared three days of national mourning. Russia called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and for the international community to urgently take concerted action. Arab Israelis clashed with police in Nazareth on Monday at the end of a protest against Israel’s deadly military strikes.