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U.N. urges cease-fire; aid groups blast Israel

Palestinian relatives of a father and four sons who were killed in the fighting mourn in the family’s Beit Lahiya house at their funeral in northern Gaza Thursday. The U.N. Security Council voted 14-0 for an immediate cease-fire.

Associated Press

Palestinian relatives of a father and four sons who were killed in the fighting mourn in the family’s Beit Lahiya house at their funeral in northern Gaza Thursday. The U.N. Security Council voted 14-0 for an immediate cease-fire.

JERUSALEM — The U.N. Security Council called for an immediate and durable cease-fire in Gaza in a resolution Thursday night as fighting raged between Israel and Hamas, with airstrikes early today killing seven Palestinians and pushing the death toll to about 760.

The U.N. vote came hours after the world body suspended food deliveries to Gaza and the Red Cross accused Israel of blocking medical assistance after forces fired on aid workers. It also followed concerns of a wider conflict that flared after militants in Lebanon fired rockets into northern Israel.

The U.N. vote was 14-0, with the United States abstaining. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States "fully supports" the resolution but abstained "to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation" with Israel and Hamas, aimed at achieving a cease-fire.

Israel and Hamas were not parties to the vote and it will be up to them to stop the fighting. But the text of the resolution was hammered out by the United States, Israel's chief ally, and by Arab nations that have ties to Hamas and the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories.

Violence was unabated in Gaza. Early today, an Israeli airstrike flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza, killing at least seven people, including an infant, Hamas security officials said. It was one of more than 30 targets struck before dawn by Israeli warplanes. It was not immediately clear whether the owner of the destroyed house was linked to Hamas.

Militants in Lebanon fired several Katyusha rockets into northern Israel early Thursday, including one that tore through the roof of a nursing home and injured two people. Israel responded swiftly with mortar fire, raising the possibility of a two-front conflict.

With today's toll, nearly 760 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have died in the 13 days of fighting in Gaza, an assault launched by Israel in an attempt to halt rocket fire from the territory, controlled by the militant Islamic Hamas. About a third of those — as many as 257 — were children, the U.N. said Thursday.

Hamas said it fired 25 rockets and 12 mortars at Israel on Thursday.

The conflict has left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza desperate for food, water, fuel and medical assistance, and the situation is expected to worsen as humanitarian efforts fall victim to the fighting.

Simon Horner, of the European Commission aid department, said 60 percent of Gaza's 1.4-million people have no electricity, and fewer people every day have access to clean water. The sewage system is in danger of a failing, which could lead to an outbreak of disease. Medical services are under severe stress.

"The inability of the U.N. to provide assistance in this worsening humanitarian crisis is unacceptable," said Michele Montas, a U.N. spokeswoman.

She said according to reports, an attack on a U.N. truck that killed two Palestinian workers took place during a three-hour humanitarian lull announced by the Israel Defense Force. Four U.N. Relief and Works Agency local staff have been killed in the conflict.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it would restrict aid operations to Gaza City for at least one day after one of its convoys came under Israeli fire at the Netzarim crossing during the three-hour lull in fighting Thursday. One driver was lightly injured.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it cooperates closely with foreign aid groups to help civilians, and said Hamas uses civilians as human shields.

The International Red Cross also accused Israel of hindering rescuers from reaching areas devastated in the battles. Ambulances could not get to the Zeitoun neighborhood for four days because the Israelis had blocked access with large earthen barriers, officials said.

When they were allowed in Wednesday, the rescuers "found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up," the Red Cross said in a rare public statement.

Emergency workers said they rescued 100 more trapped survivors Thursday and found between 40 and 50 corpses in the devastated neighborhood. Relief agencies said they feared more people remained in the rubble of several shattered houses.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed in combat Thursday, raising the number of soldiers killed in the conflict to 10. Three Israeli civilians were killed by rockets.

Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

U.N. urges cease-fire; aid groups blast Israel 01/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 4:43pm]
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