Obama Calls Netanyahu To Express Concern Over Mounting Palestinian Casualties As Death Toll Tops 1,000
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JERUSALEM (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — The Israeli military says it has carried out three airstrikes on Gaza, targeting Hamas rocket launchers and infrastructure in the strip.
The strikes broke a relative lull in the fighting at the start of a major Muslim holiday.
The military says Israeli jets hit two rocket launchers and a rocket manufacturing facility in central and northern Gaza on Monday.
It says the airstrikes were in response to a Hamas rocket launched into Israel earlier in the morning that caused no damage or casualties.
The strikes followed an almost 12-hour pause in the three-week-old Gaza war as international efforts intensified to end the conflict that has already killed more than 1,000 Palestinians and 43 Israeli soldiers.
Earlier Monday, the Israeli military said it hadn’t carried out any attacks in Gaza since 9:30 the previous night. But it said troops were pressing on with efforts to destroy the cross-border tunnels constructed by Hamas for attacks inside Israel.
Hamas wants to break the seven-year blockade of Gaza and believes the only way to force serious negotiations on ending the closure is to keep fighting. Israel, which launched the war on July 8 to halt relentless Hamas rocket fire on its cities, wants more time to destroy Hamas’ rocket arsenal and the military tunnels the Islamic militants use to infiltrate into Israel and smuggle weapons.
The relative quiet came as the U.N. Security Council called for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” in Gaza and President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to express concern over mounting Palestinian casualties.
“The President underscored the United States’ strong condemnation of Hamas’ rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself,” the White House said in a statement. “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.”
The Security Council met in emergency meeting just after midnight Monday.
The pressure for a cease-fire followed new attacks launched by Israel and Hamas on Sunday despite back-and-forth over proposals for another temporary halt to nearly three weeks of fighting. A 12-hour lull Saturday, agreed to by both sides following intense U.S. and United Nations mediation efforts, could not be sustained.
The Security Council urged Israel and Hamas “to accept and fully implement the humanitarian cease-fire into the Eid period and beyond.” It said this would allow for the delivery of urgently needed assistance.
The council’s presidential statement also called on the parties “to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire, based on the Egyptian initiative.”
The 20-day war has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Israel has lost 43 soldiers, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, according to Israeli officials.
The Palestinians and Israelis both criticized the statement adopted by the council.
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour said the council should have adopted a strong and legally binding resolution a long time ago demanding an immediate halt to Israel’s “aggression,” providing the Palestinian people with protection and lifting the siege in the Gaza Strip so goods and people can move freely.
Nonetheless, Mansour expressed hope that Israel will “honor and respect” a new humanitarian cease-fire that the Palestinians hope will last “for a long time” so all outstanding issues can be addressed, especially the siege.
“You cannot keep 1.8 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip in this huge prison,” he told reporters. “That is a recipe for disaster. It is inhumane, and it has to be stopped and it has to be lifted.”
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador, Ron Prosor, said the presidential statement didn’t mention Hamas or the firing of rockets into Israel or Israel’s right to defend itself.
He sidestepped several questions on whether Israel would accept a new humanitarian cease-fire, but stressed that it had agreed to five cease-fires since the conflict began.
“Every single time the international community called for a cease-fire, we ceased and Hamas fired,” he said.
Prosor directed his statement to countries that give money to the Palestinians in Gaza, saying, “Your tax dollars are not being used towards education, civil services or development – they are being used to develop a terrorist stronghold.”
The Security Council is often deeply divided on Israeli-Palestinian issues, with the United States, Israel’s most important ally, often blocking or using its veto on statements and resolutions pressed by the Palestinians and their supporters.
Rwanda, the current council president, announced agreement on the presidential statement Sunday night and called an immediate, and rare, emergency meeting at midnight to approve it. The statement was drafted by Jordan, the Arab representative on the U.N.’s most powerful body.
Jordan’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mahmoud Hmoud, said the presidential statement was the first Security Council document on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since January 2009, when the council called for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza after another conflict with Hamas.
Presidential statements become part of the council’s official record and must be approved at a council meeting. They are a step below Security Council resolutions, but unlike resolutions, they require approval of all 15 members.
The statement never names either Israel or Hamas. Instead, it expresses “grave concern regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties.”
The presidential statement also commends efforts by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to achieve a cease-fire. Ban is scheduled to address U.N. correspondents on Monday morning on his mission.
In the longer term, the statement urges the parties and the international community to achieve a comprehensive peace based on the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace “with secure and recognized borders.”
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