U.N. Security Council demands humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza
JERUSALEM (CNN) — With more than 1,000 people killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting in New York early Monday to push for "an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza."
The halt in violence would allow for the delivery of urgently needed assistance, the 15-nation council said.
But as the past week has shown, cease-fires between the dueling sides are short-lived.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN on Sunday that he hopes for sustained calm "as soon as possible."
U.S. President Barack Obama had another phone conversation with Netanyahu on Sunday, underscoring U.S. "strong condemnation" of Hamas attacks and reaffirming "Israel's right to defend itself," the White House said. The President also "reiterated the United States' serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza."
"We are now maintaining an unlimited humanitarian cease-fire," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told CNN on Monday. "Our troops will only fire if they come under direct attack."
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said militants fired a rocket that hit the Eshokol regional council. In response, "the IDF targeted two concealed rocket launchers and a weapon manufacturing site" in northern and central Gaza. "Since midnight 12 projectiles were launched, counting a total of approximately 2250 since the beginning of the operation," the IDF said.
Also on Monday, IDF forces in Gaza "came under attack when mortars were fired at them," the IDF said.
On Monday afternoon, the IDF announced that after several rocket attacks on Israel over a few hours, "the Israeli Air Force resumed air strikes on terrorist targets" across Gaza.
A central goal of Israel's military action is to destroy tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle weapons and launch attacks.
In an interview Monday with CNN's "New Day," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was asked what he believes the tunnels are for. "I know the situation is so much complex -- I'm not saying I know the picture as a whole," he responded. But, he said, Gaza is now like a burning building. "We need to get the people out, and then we need to extinguish the fire, and then we sit down and talk."
Erekat is in the West Bank, and part of the Palestinian Fatah movement, a long rival of Hamas, which controls the West Bank. The two factions, which have fought violent battles in the past, recently announced another effort at a unity government.
Erekat called Monday for Israel to pull its troops back out of Gaza, insisting that what the country is doing "is not self-defense. They're the occupying power. They should be responsible for the human lives there."
Erekat said U.N. figures show "90% of those killed are women and children." It was unclear what he was basing those figures on. The United Nations estimates that more than 70% of the Palestinians killed were civilians, including 226 youths and 117 women. More than 150 were members of armed groups, the United Nations says.
UNICEF said Monday that about two-thirds of the children killed were 12 years old or younger.
Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths, saying militants encourage people to stay in their homes despite Israeli warnings that strikes are coming. Militants also use civilian facilities such as homes, schools, mosques and hospitals to launch attacks on Israeli civilians and store weapons.
The World Health Organization said Monday it "has been appalled by the continuing trend for healthcare facilities, staff and vehicles to come under direct fire" in the conflict, and reminds all parties "of their ethical and legal obligations to protect medical services under international humanitarian law.
Israel, meanwhile, has reported far more "terrorists" killed in Gaza than Palestinian officials have reported.
On the Israeli side, 43 troops and three civilians have been killed in the Gaza operation, including a few soldiers by friendly fire.
The Iron Dome missile defense system has thwarted many rockets that could have caused untold civilian casualties in Israeli population centers.
At its midnight meeting, the United Nations Security Council proclaimed its support for "a comprehensive peace based on the vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace with secure and recognized borders as envisioned in Security Council resolution 1850 (2008)."
The statement did not appease the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, who wanted the Security Council to pass a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
"They should have adopted a resolution (a) long time ago to condemn this aggression and to call for this aggression to be stopped immediately to provide the Palestinian people with protection and to lift the siege against our people in the Gaza Strip," Palestinian Ambassador Riyah Mansour said.
Jordan has circulated a draft resolution that called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces, but that resolution never passed.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations was also unimpressed by the Security Council's statement.
Ron Prosor said the statement "miraculously managed not to mention Hamas, or rockets, or Israel's right to defend its citizens."
"The equation is simple," the ambassador said. "When it is quiet in Israel, it will be quiet in Gaza."
The Israeli military said it was not responsible for anyone killed last week when an "errant Israeli mortar" hit the courtyard of a U.N. school that was shelter to many Gaza residents.
U.N. and Palestinian officials said 16 people were killed and hundreds were wounded Thursday when the school in northern Gaza was struck.
Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said militants had fired anti-tank missiles from the immediate area of the school, and the IDF fired several mortar shells back in that direction.
"A single errant Israeli mortar landed in the courtyard in the school," Lerner said. "The footage we have shows the courtyard was empty."
"We reject the claim that people were killed by the IDF mortar on the school premises," he added. But Lerner said there could have been people who were wounded by shrapnel.
When asked how Israel could know whether people were killed versus injured in the school yard, the Prime Minister's spokesman said the incident was tragic.
"First of all, what happened at the school was a tragedy. Innocent people were killed," said the spokesman, Mark Regev. "The question is who is responsible, and for that we have to look at seriously and judiciously and make sure we get to the truth."
A CNN team that visited the shelter several hours after the mortar attack saw evidence that people were badly wounded, if not killed, at the courtyard.
The team saw blood and strewn possessions concentrated close to the edge of the courtyard along the wall of the building, the area that would have been shady around 3 p.m. when the school was hit.
The IDF released a high-altitude aerial video of the round hitting the school, but it did not have high resolution and it is impossible to tell if anybody was sitting on the courtyard edge.
CNN has asked the IDF for a higher-resolution version of the video, as well as a version that includes a time stamp.
The team also saw a shrapnel field ranging from a few inches above the ground to the top of the main three-story school building, with the blast field extending down the corridor of the main school building.
Security experts that CNN consulted said the shallow point of detonation was consistent with a mortar round set to "airburst," meaning it would explode a few feet above the ground to maximize enemy casualties.