January 9, 2009 / 3:48 AM / 9 years ago

UN Security Council calls for immediate Gaza truce

6 Min Read

* U.N. Security Council calls for immediate ceasefire

* Dozens more bodies recovered from rubble

* ICRC says Israel delayed access to casualties

* Gaza ministry says third of over 750 dead are children

By Sue Pleming and Nidal al-Mughrabi

UNITED NATIONS/GAZA, Jan 9 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip but Israeli warplanes launched intermittent attacks on Friday.

After days of intense haggling, the Security Council passed a resolution urging an "immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire", and for Israel to withdraw from Gaza after a 14-day air-and-ground offensive. The United States abstained.

The resolution, pressed for by Arab countries in the face of efforts by Britain, France and the United States for a more muted statement, called for arrangements to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza and for its borders to be opened.

It said there should be "unimpeded provision" and distribution of aid to the territory, home to 1.5 million people, many of whom are dependent on food assistance.

Moments before the resolution was passed, Israeli warplanes dropped bombs on areas on the outskirts of Gaza, the main city in the north of the coastal strip.

There was no immediate reaction from Israeli officials after the Security Council vote, but Israel had opposed the idea of a binding resolution. Israel's military commanders are keen to pursue the ground offensive and secure more gains.

On Thursday, ambulance workers ventured onto the battlefield to gather decomposing bodies from the rubble. Hamas officials said the Palestinian death toll had risen to 765, of whom more than a third were children.

While the United States abstained from the U.N. resolution, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington backed the text and had abstained only because it wanted to see the results of an Egyptian mediation effort.

"The United States thought it important to see the outcome of the Egyptian mediation efforts in order to see what this resolution might have been supporting," she said.



ROTTING CORPSES

In Gaza, local ambulance crews and the Red Crescent, using a time slot coordinated with Israeli forces, said they collected rotting corpses in places that had been too risky to reach since Israeli forces began a ground attack six days ago.

They found four children starving beside the bodies of their mothers and evacuated scores of trapped and wounded, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

Israel lost three soldiers in combat with Islamist militants who hold the territory. Apart from a "friendly fire" incident which killed four, it was its heaviest one-day combat toll.

Ten soldiers have so far died in the campaign launched by Israel to crush Hamas forces and halt the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. Israel says it is doing what it can to avoid civilian casualties but accuses Hamas of deliberately placing its fighters close to homes and mosques.

About 20 rockets hit Israel on Thursday, fewer than at the start of the war but not the total halt it wants so that "quiet will reign supreme", as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said. Rockets have killed three Israeli civilians since the offensive began. Olmert said Israel's goal had not been achieved and a decision on further military action lay ahead.

Aside from a three-hour ceasefire which Israel ordered for a second day to let Gaza civilians venture out, there was no let-up in fighting. Air strikes and ground attacks killed at least nine civilians and three gunmen, medical officials said.

The dead included two brothers aged six and 13, killed when an Israeli air strike missed a group of Islamic Jihad fighters.

In Washington, the U.S. Senate adopted a bipartisan motion "reaffirming Israel's inalienable right to defend against attacks from Gaza", said majority leader Harry Reid.

The United States would do the same if "rockets and mortars coming from Toronto in Canada" hit Buffalo, New York, he said.

Israel says it accepts the "principles" of a ceasefire proposal by Egypt and the European Union, and Washington has urged the Jewish state to study details of the plan.

Hamas, shunned by the West for espousing violence, said it was still considering the ideas. But the militants say they will never accept Israel, whose establishment amid conflict 60 years ago dispossessed and uprooted Palestinian people.

European governments offered to back the plan with an EU border force to stop Hamas rearming via tunnels from Egypt. The deal would also address Palestinian calls for an end to Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The ICRC accused Israel of violating the rules of war by delaying ambulance access to the house where its team found children huddled beside corpses, not far from the Israeli army.

The Red Cross said the army must have known of the situation but did not help the wounded, in violation of international law.

Israeli nerves were rattled in the morning when a rocket from southern Lebanon hit an old people's home in Nahariya, raising fears that Hezbollah fighters were opening a second front to relieve pressure on Gaza.

Israel fought a 34-day war with Shi'ite Hezbollah guerrillas in 2006 and is in no hurry to engage them now. It responded with a few artillery rounds and played down the rocket attack. (Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations and by Jerusalem bureau)




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