Displaced Palestinians take shelter at the al-Shifa hospital
New York - AFP
The UN Security Council on Thursday called for humanitarian pauses in Gaza and renewed an appeal for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas amid alarm over the fate of civilians.
The 15 members of the panel expressed "grave disappointment" that repeated calls for a truce had not been heeded, in a statement read to the press at the end of a four-hour meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York.
UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos called for the brief humanitarian breaks to allow relief workers to reach those in need, telling the Council that such pauses would give civilians much-needed reprieve.
The head of the UN relief agency in Gaza also appealed to the top body for action, saying the Palestinians were "facing a precipice" in the conflict that has pushed humanitarian efforts to the breaking point.
"Council members called for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that can lead to a sustainable ceasefire based on the Egyptian proposal," said Rwandan Deputy Ambassador Olivier Nduhungirehe.
"Council members encouraged the use of humanitarian pauses" and called on countries to make donations to the UN agency in Gaza, he said.
The press statement read by the Rwandan chair of the Security Council fell short of the toughly-worded resolution that the Palestinian representative and Arab countries are seeking.
It made no reference to the attack on Wednesday of a UN-run school hosting refugees that left at least 16 dead and drew fierce international condemnation.
UN officials have said they believe an Israeli artillery strike hit the school and have called for a full investigation.
Diplomats said the divided Council failed to agree on wording that would have condemned the UN school attack after the United States insisted that a reference be made to rockets found in abandoned schools.
That stance ran into strong objections from Jordan, diplomatic sources said.
The White House said earlier Thursday there was little doubt Israeli artillery was the source of the strike, calling it "totally indefensible."
At an emergency meeting late Sunday, the Council agreed on a statement calling for the ceasefire but it has yet to discuss a draft resolution put forward by Jordan demanding an Israeli withdrawal and lifting of the blockade.
'Facing a precipice'
With more than 220,000 Palestinians already sheltering in UN facilities -- four times the number from the last Gaza conflict in 2008-2009 -- the top refugee official pleaded to the Council for action.
"I believe the population is facing a precipice and appeal to the international community to take the steps necessary to address this extreme situation," Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, told the Council.
"We have exceeded the tolerable limit that we can accommodate," he said, adding that he was "alarmed" by the latest Israeli instructions to civilians to evacuate two areas in Gaza targeted for more attacks.
"It is past time for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as called for by the Council," he said.
Krahenbuhl spoke to the Council by audiolink from Gaza after Israel vowed to press on with its military campaign to destroy a network of tunnels used by Hamas militants for attacks.
In her address to the Council, Amos said the humanitarian pauses "must be daily, predictable, and adequate in length so that humanitarian staff can dispatch relief to those in need, rescue the injured, recover the dead and allow civilians some reprieve so that they can restock and resupply their homes."
Finding shelter from Israeli strikes was becoming increasingly difficult for the 1.8 million people of Gaza, she said.
"The reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe."
More than 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting that began on July 8, along with 58 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
Palestinian representative Riyad Mansour again called on the Security Council to adopt a tough resolution.
"Enough is enough, this genocide should be stopped immediately," Mansour told reporters.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said Israel had agreed to "every humanitarian ceasefire" in the conflict and renewed accusations that Hamas was using civilians as shields.
He showed aerial photographs of Hamas rocket launch sites, saying these were close to schools.
"Nothing is off-limits for Hamas," he said.