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US increases pressure on Israel as UN demands Gaza truce

The UN Security Council on Monday (28 July) joined US President Barack Obama in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, after Israel and Hamas ignored calls for a truce despite mounting civilian casualties.

JERUSALEM: The UN Security Council on Monday (28 July) joined US President Barack Obama in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, after Israel and Hamas ignored calls for a truce despite mounting civilian casualties.

The Security Council resolution came during a lull in fighting in Gaza early Monday, the beginning of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival, after a day of strikes and counter-strikes. A military spokeswoman told AFP that since midnight no Gaza rockets had hit Israel, and the Jewish state had carried out no strikes in the Palestinian enclave.

The 15-member Council released a statement urging a truce during Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. It expressed "strong support" for an "immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire". It also voiced "grave concern regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties".

At least 1,032 Palestinians have died in the fighting as well as 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians. Obama, too, voiced concern at the civilian toll, in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday in which he urged an immediate ceasefire.

OBAMA: END HOSTILITIES IMMEDIATELY

According to a White House statement, the US president "made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement" brokered by Egypt. 

He also stressed the need to "ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarisation of Gaza," while reiterating "serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives". The two sides had observed a 12-hour humanitarian pause on Saturday, giving Gaza medics a chance to pull bodies from rubble they had not been able to reach under fire.

But Hamas rocket fire prompted Israel to abandon an extension of that truce on Sunday, and subsequent Hamas calls for another ceasefire were ignored by both sides. On Sunday, fighting renewed apace, as Israel pounded Gaza with aerial, naval and artillery bombardments and Hamas rained more rockets down on Israeli territory.

A controversial incident on Thursday when a UN school acting as a shelter was shelled, killing 15 people, drew fierce condemnation from Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA. The Israeli army confirmed on Sunday it had hit the school, but said it was a "single errant mortar" round, denying that people were killed "as a result of (army) operational activity".

Meanwhile Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry was still working for Israel and Hamas to agree to further halts in the bloodshed ahead of hoped for Egypt-led peace talks, a US official said. Israel rejected a Kerry-proposed ceasefire last week and Hamas has resisted truce efforts by Cairo after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and banned the Muslim Brotherhood, a Hamas ally.

CRIPPLING BLOCKADE

Israel insists that it will continue its mission to destroy Hamas tunnels used to launch attacks on the Jewish state, and Hamas wants a lifting of the crippling Gaza blockade that has been in place for eight years. A military spokeswoman told AFP that since the July 8 start of its military operation, over 2,000 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza hit Israel, with another 492 intercepted.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said his group could not coexist with Israel as long as it occupied Palestinian land. "We are not actually fighting the Jews because they are Jews," he said in remarks broadcast on Sunday. "We fight the occupiers. I'm ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and the Arabs and non-Arabs," he said. "However, I do not coexist with the occupiers."

Palestinian representative to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, expressed disappointment with Monday's Security Council statement, saying it fell short of a formal resolution demanding that Israel withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip. "They should have adopted a resolution a long time ago to condemn this aggression and to call for this aggression to be stopped immediately," said Mansour following the emergency meeting. "We are disappointed in that sense," he said,

Rights groups say the vast majority, some 80 percent of Palestinians killed, have been civilians.

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