U.N. Security Council approves Gaza cease-fire resolution

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 8, 2009 

JERUSALEM — The U.N. Security Council late Thursday approved a resolution calling for "an immediate, durable and fully-respected ceasefire," which it said should lead to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

The resolution, which passed 14-0 with the U.S. abstaining, also called for unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance to Gazans, and efforts, which weren't specified, to stop arms trafficking into the Gaza Strip.

It was unclear whether Israel and Hamas would heed the cease-fire call, and if so, how quickly. Diplomats had haggled for three days in New York, but bridged their differences as Gaza's humanitarian situation worsened in recent days, and fears grew that the conflict in Gaza could spread.

"We are all very conscious that peace is made on the ground while resolutions are written at the United Nations," said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. "Our job is to support . . . and to encourage changes on the ground that are desperately needed."

Earlier Thursday, the U.N. suspended relief deliveries to the Gaza Strip on Thursday after Israeli soldiers opened fire on a truck that was attempting to deliver food, killing one U.N.-contracted truck driver and wounding two others, U.N. officials said.

Two other international aid convoys also came under fire, underscoring the increasingly dangerous conditions that relief workers face in Gaza as they try to sustain the 1.5 million Palestinians who are living there.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency announced it would halt aid deliveries to Gaza "until real security guarantees can be ensured." It warned that even a temporary suspension means that hundreds of thousands of civilians may have to go without food, water, blankets, medicine and other supplies for days longer.

"The inability of the U.N. to provide assistance in this worsening humanitarian crisis is unacceptable," said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called on Israel to investigate the shooting incident.

Israeli military officials said they were looking into it. "We are doing the utmost to minimize casualties and wounded by the Palestinians," said Brig. Gen. Ilan Tal, a military spokesman.

The military also offered no information about a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross that one of its convoys had come under Israeli fire, slightly injuring a truck driver. The ICRC convoy was evacuating critically wounded civilians to Egypt to receive medical care and delivering medical supplies to southern Gaza hospitals, officials said.

After the reported incident, the ICRC announced that it, too, would halt its aid convoys for a day for security reasons.

Another U.N. convoy took small-arms fire as it escorted an ambulance through Gaza City during a three-hour lull in the fighting that Israel instituted for humanitarian reasons.

In all the incidents, relief officials said that they'd been in contact with Israeli forces, who'd approved their movements, and that the convoys were clearly marked with agency insignia.

Gaza medical officials said that the death toll from the 13-day Israeli offensive had climbed to 763, about 40 percent of them women and children. Another 3,120 have been wounded, 375 of them critically.

The onslaught has devastated Gaza, which already was reeling from an 18-month Israeli blockade that was instituted after Hamas took control of the territory. Hospitals are operating on backup generators, and clinics are running out of medicines, the U.N. said.

With water and sewage treatment systems also inoperative for most of Gaza, posing a growing health risk to residents, nine Israeli human-rights groups petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to order the military to allow the delivery of fuel and spare parts to get the systems back up and running.

The fatal shooting of the U.N. driver occurred around 9 a.m. just south of the Erez checkpoint, the main entrance that relief agencies use to funnel food and medical supplies into Gaza. The victim was an employee of a Palestinian company contracted by the U.N. — with Israeli approval — to carry out its deliveries, and was driving a forklift truck without reinforced glass.

U.N. officials said it wasn't clear what had led to the incident or whether the Israeli soldiers had fired deliberately, but it caused the closure of the Erez checkpoint, and no U.N. trucks delivered aid to Gaza for the entire day.

"Gaza was already strangled, and it's being strangled further," said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. relief mission in Gaza. "The Israeli army is showing itself . . . incapable of safeguarding . . . neutral U.N. agencies."

In addition to the contractor, three full-time U.N. staff members have been killed since the conflict began. Six Palestinian medical workers have been killed, aid agencies said.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed Thursday in separate incidents, bringing to eight the number of military fatalities since Israel sent ground forces into Gaza six days ago.

(McClatchy special correspondent Ahmed Abu Hamda in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, and Warren P. Strobel in Washington contributed to this article.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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