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United Nations Alarmed By Deadly Violence In Gaza

Security Council, Secretary-General alarmed by deadly violence in Middle East

2 March 2008 - The Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have condemned the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, which has claimed dozens of civilian lives in recent days.

Council members met in emergency session late last night and early today to discuss the situation in the Middle East, where the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have launched air and land attacks on targets in Gaza and Palestinian militants have fired dozens of rockets at targets in southern Israel, including the city of Ashkelon.

The United Nations estimates that at least 59 Palestinians - including 39 civilians - were killed yesterday in Gaza, and hundreds more injured, while two Israeli soldiers are reported to have been killed in the fighting and an Israeli civilian was killed in Sderot following a rocket attack and at least five other civilians were injured in Ashkelon.

Following the meeting, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, which currently holds the monthly rotating presidency of the Council, today read out a summary of the discussions that was agreed to by all 15 members of the panel.

Voicing deep concern about the loss of civilian life and the escalation of violence in the region, Council members called on all sides to respect their obligations under international law and to immediately cease all acts of violence.

"These acts must not be allowed to deter the political process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, aimed at establishing two States - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in peace and security," Mr. Churkin said.

Earlier, Mr. Ban told the Council meeting that he has contacted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and League of Arab States Secretary-General Amr Moussa as part of UN efforts to push for a calming of the violence.

UN humanitarian agencies operating on the ground, especially the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), are also continuing their efforts to help people in distress.

Mr. Ban condemned and urged an end to the Palestinian rocket attacks, which he noted "serve no purpose, endanger Israeli civilians, and bring misery to the Palestinian people."

The Secretary-General also said that while Israel has a right to defend itself, "I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children. I call on Israel to cease such attacks. Israel must fully comply with international humanitarian law and exercise the utmost restraint. Incidents in which civilians have been killed or injured must be investigated and accountability must be ensured."

All schools operated by UNRWA in Gaza have been closed and many families are trapped inside their homes because of the violence, and Mr. Ban called on Israel to facilitate full access to hospitals and medical centres for the injured.

The Secretary-General urged all parties to "step back from the brink of even deeper and more deadly clashes."

In addition, he voiced extreme concern about the effect they are having on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation process, and he called on members of the international community and other stakeholders to use their influence on the parties to both stop the violence and allow humanitarian relief to flow.

ENDS

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