Israel faces Gaza ceasefire calls, US vows more arms

Israel faces Gaza ceasefire calls

GAZA: Israel faced another round of global pressure on Tuesday for a ceasefire in Gaza with a new UN vote and fresh Western diplomatic efforts, although the United States vowed to continue arming its ally.

The UN Security Council was set to convene Tuesday to weigh a call for a ceasefire in the besieged Palestinian territory after a previous bid was vetoed by the United States.

UK Foreign Minister David Cameron was also due to meet French and Italian leaders to push for a “sustainable ceasefire” in the conflict, his office said.

The Gaza health ministry says Israel’s brutal military response has killed more than 19,400 people, mostly women and children.

The ministry said an Israeli strike killed at least 20 people on Tuesday in the southern city of Rafah, near the border with Egypt.

On a visit to Israel, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed Monday to keep arming its ally, which Washington has already provided with billions of dollars in military aid.

“We’ll continue to provide Israel with the equipment that you need to defend your country… including critical munitions, tactical vehicles and air defence systems,” Austin said.

Austin was touring the Middle East as concerns grew over the war’s spread around the region, with Yemen’s Houthis attacking international shipping in the Red Sea in solidarity with Palestinians.

Austin announced the formation on Monday of a 10-nation coalition to quell the rising number of Houthi attacks on tankers, cargo ships and other vessels in the Red Sea.

The coalition includes the United States, United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, Austin said.

In the latest incidents, Houthi fighters said Monday they had attacked two “Israeli-linked” vessels in the Red Sea.

The UN Security Council had been scheduled to vote on a ceasefire resolution on Monday. A draft of the resolution had called for an “urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities” in Gaza to allow “safe and unhindered humanitarian access”.

However, the United Arab Emirates, which had introduced the latest text, requested the vote be postponed to Tuesday to allow for complex negotiations to continue, diplomatic sources told AFP.

Qatar, which helped mediate a week-long truce and captive-prisoner exchange last month, has also said there are “ongoing diplomatic efforts to renew the humanitarian pause” outside of the UN process.

US news platform Axios on Monday reported that Mossad chief David Barnea, CIA director Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met in Warsaw.

International alarm has mounted over the plight of 2.4 million Gazans forced to endure daily bombardment, food and water shortages and mass displacement.

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell accused Israel on Monday of displaying an “appalling lack of distinction” in its campaign in Gaza, highlighting the deaths of Palestinian civilians, worshippers and Israeli captives.

Human Rights Watch said on Monday Israel was “using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”.

“Israeli forces are deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food and fuel, while wilfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas,” the New York-based group said.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said the organisation “has no moral basis to talk about what’s going on in Gaza,” accusing Human Rights Watch of ignoring “the suffering and the human rights of Israelis”.

A report by Washington’s Director of National Intelligence, quoted by US media, said that nearly half of munitions dropped by Israeli aircraft on Gaza were “dumb” bombs — unguided munitions with limited accuracy.

Israeli Air Force officers on Monday defended their actions, despite the presence of videos and photos of IAF jets armed with dumb bombs.

“All the bombs we use are high-precision bombs,” an officer told reporters during a military-organised visit to the Palmahim air base, on the Mediterranean coast south of Tel Aviv.

Israel has approved aid deliveries into Gaza via its Kerem Shalom crossing, aside from the Rafah crossing with Egypt, and dozens of trucks entered through Kerem Shalom on Monday, said an AFP journalist.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller hailed the opening of the crossing for humanitarian assistance and the arrival into Gaza of trucks carrying commercial goods as “important breakthroughs”.

At the Rafah crossing, previously the only point where aid had been allowed through, families gathered in the hopes of finally being allowed across to safety.

Debris covers the ground at damaged Shadia Abu Ghazaleh school following an Israeli raid. PHOTO: Reuters

Debris covers the ground at damaged Shadia Abu Ghazaleh school following an Israeli raid. PHOTO: Reuters

Firefighters and civilians gather at the rubble of a building following Israeli bombardment in Rafah. PHOTO: AFP

“We’ve been here for about a month,” said Safa Fathi Hamad. “We are going to die, food is very limited and we have no protection.”

Israelis protested Monday in central Tel Aviv, calling for swift action to release the remaining 129 captives believed to be held in Gaza.

The anger and fear of captives’ families intensified after Israeli forces mistakenly shot dead three captives who had escaped.

Reports said the trio waved white flags and used food leftovers to write a Hebrew-language message on a white sheet before they were shot.

Hamas’s military wing released footage it claimed showed three of those still held captive. The video featured three bearded men sitting on chairs at an undisclosed location and asking to be released.

The Gaza war has also seen violence spiral in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli forces shot dead four Palestinians in a West Bank refugee camp Monday, the Palestinian health ministry said, taking the toll in the occupied territory to over 300 during the Gaza war.