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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. 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.
”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.
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,” she said.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe urged Israelis and Palestinians on Saturday to stop the violence and asked the international community to find a solution for peace in the Middle East.
‘Both parties must do everything their power to come to a solution in order to end the violence in the Middle East,” Motlanthe said in a statement.
”Violence and counter-violence would not advance the cause of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Strength and efforts must not be spared by the Palestinians and the Israelis to find an amicable solution to their problem.”
He called for a two-state solution, with an independent Palestinian state co-existing with an Israel state.
”These should exist within secure borders as a lasting solution to the ongoing Middle East conflict,” he said. – Reuters, Sapa