UN: 75 percent of Palestinian dead civilians
GENEVA — Palestinian civilians in the densely-populated Gaza Strip have no place to hide from Israel’s military offensive and children are paying the heaviest price, the United Nations said yesterday, as the organization’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that at least 75 percent of deaths were civilians, including more than 100 children.
Israeli airstrikes continued to pummel Gaza tunnels, rocket launchers and militants on the 15th day of the war yesterday as diplomatic efforts intensified to end fighting that has killed at least 630 Palestinians and 29 Israelis — 27 soldiers and two civilians. Israel says its troops have killed hundreds of Hamas gunmen, but Gaza officials say the vast majority have been civilians.
Egypt and the US back an unconditional ceasefire, to be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007. But Hamas has rejected repeated Egyptian truce proposals. UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry were in the region yesterday, making the highest-level push yet to end the deadly conflict.
The UN secretary-general said yesterday it was his “hope and belief” that there would be an end to fighting “in the very near future.” Speaking from the West Bank city of Ramallah by videoconference, he refused to reveal any details publicly at what he called a “highly sensitive moment.”
In Israel, the chances of a ceasefire were played down.
“A ceasefire is not near,” said Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, viewed as the most dovish member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet. “I see no light at the end of the tunnel,” she told Israel’s Army Radio.
Egypt’s UN Ambassador Mootaz Khalil urged acceptance of the ceasefire initiative and condemned Israel’s disproportionate use of force, saying: “The Torah mandates an eye for an eye. It never dreamed a hundred eyes for only one.”
‘Literally no safe place’
Speaking from Geneva, OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said the death toll was rising in Gaza, which has an estimated 4,500 people per square kilometre, leaving aid agencies to prioritize the protection of civilians and the evacuation and treatment of the wounded.
“There is literally no safe place for civilians” in the territory, he said.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides assistance and protection to some Palestinian refugees said on Twitter that more than 118,300 Palestinians were displaced and seeking shelter in its schools. It said the number “continues to increase by the hour.”
Israel began airstrikes on the coastal strip on July 8, saying it wanted to halt missile fire out of Gaza by Hamas militants, and launched a ground offensive last Thursday. But the overwhelming majority of people killed so far in the conflict are Palestinians, including 121 Gaza children u nder age 18, Juliette Touma of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said yesterday.
More than 900 Palestinian children are also reported to have been injured, according to UNICEF. “According to an assessment by aid workers on ground at least 107,000 children need psycho-social support for the trauma they are experiencing such as death, injury or loss of their homes,” Laerke said.
More than 1.2 million of the 1.8 million people in the enclave have no water or only limited access to water as power networks have been damaged or lack fuel for generators, he said.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed emergency food rations and food vouchers to more than 90,000 people so far, spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.
Adding to the turmoil, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that 18 health facilities in Gaza have been damaged, including three hospitals. An Israeli tank shell hit the third floor of al-Aqsa hospital in the central Gaza Strip on Monday, killing four people and wounding 16, the Health Ministry said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, guardian of the rules of war, condemned the attack on the al-Aqsa hospital which it said had come under “direct fire at least four times.”
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, yesterday demanded to know what the Security Council is doing “to stop Israel’s atrocities” in Gaza and uphold its responsibility to protect civilians. He urged the council, which is often divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to adopt a resolution demanding an end to the fighting.
Mansour read the names of 44 Palestinian children killed in the fighting, aged eight months to 15 years old, and showed council members grim photos of victims and grieving survivors.
Israel says Hamas militants are using civilians as human shields and that it does the best it can to minimize civilian casualties.
UNRWA said it had discovered rockets hidden in a vacant school in the Gaza Strip yesterday. It said it “strongly and unequivocally condemns” those responsible.
“Israel is doing its utmost to avoid harming civilians because we believe that every innocent life lost is a tragedy. We deeply regret the losses, but the blame lies with Hamas for hiding behind civilians and using them as human shields,” Israeli Deputy UN Ambassador David Roet said yesterday.
“Israel has no interest in being in Gaza. We are fighting in Gaza, but we are not fighting the people of Gaza,” he said, adding that the goal of Israel’s operation was “to eliminate the rockets, shut down the terror tunnels and demilitarize Gaza.”
Ban, briefing the council from Ramallah said that “violence has reached even more alarming levels.”
“Yet again, too many civilians, including many children, are paying the price for this latest escalation,” he added.
— Herald with AP, Reuters