BEIRUT

Middle East

UN school bombed in Gaza, China calls for an end to the blockade

Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 3, 2014. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

GAZA/CAIRO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas Sunday to stop fighting and urged the Jewish state to lift its blockade of Gaza.

Wang made his comments at a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukri, whose government is hosting a Palestinian delegation for ceasefire talks snubbed by Israel.

"Both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, should immediately and comprehensively cease fire, including air strikes, ground operations and rocket fire to save the people and peace in the region," said Wang, whose comments were translated into Arabic.

"All actions that involve excessive use of force and that lead to civilian casualties are unacceptable."

Wang also said Israel "should lift its blockade on Gaza, release Palestinian prisoners (but) at the same time Israel's security concerns must be considered".

China will provide $ 1.5 million in urgent humanitarian aid to war-battered Gaza, he added.

A Palestinian delegation of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Palestinian Authority was in Cairo for talks, although Israel said it will not send anyone to the negotiations.

Cairo, the traditional broker in conflicts between Israel and Hamas, invited Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to thrash out a durable truce in Gaza based on an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

Wang said Beijing backs Cairo's ceasefire proposal and efforts undertaken by other countries to end the fighting in Gaza.

Beijing wanted both Israel and Hamas to "abort the use of force and work on reaching a solution that leads to mutual security through responsible negotiations and suitable mechanisms".

Shoukri said Cairo was trying to reach a solution which "addresses the roots of the conflict, through establishing a state for the Palestinian people".

Earlier Sunday an Israeli air strike killed 10 people and wounded about 30 others in a U.N.-run school in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said, as dozens died in Israeli shelling of the enclave and Hamas fired rockets at Israel.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the reported attack, the second to hit a school in less than a week.

Israeli media, on the 27th day of the fighting, reported that most Israeli troops had pulled out of Gaza, and Reuters TV footage showed a column of Israeli tanks and dozens of infantrymen leaving the enclave.

An Israeli military spokesman stopped short of calling the move a withdrawal, but said residents from some evacuated Palestinian neighbourhoods had been told by the army they could return.

"The troops are in the midst of a redeployment to other parts of the border," said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner. "Indeed we are releasing troops from the front line but the mission is ongoing. Ground forces are operating. Air forces are operating."

In the town of Rafah, where the military has been battling militants, a missile from an Israeli aircraft struck the entrance to the school, where Palestinians who had fled their homes were sheltering, witnesses and medics said.

Ashraf Al-Qudra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, said 10 people were killed and 30 wounded.

Robert Serry, U.N. Middle East Special Coordinator, said he was dismayed at reports of a strike in the immediate vicinity of a school in Rafah sheltering 3,000 displaced persons, causing multiple deaths and injuries.

"It is simply intolerable that another school has come under fire while designated to provide shelter for civilians fleeing the hostilities," he said.

Last Wednesday, at least 15 Palestinians who sought refuge in a U.N.-run school in Jabalya refugee camp were killed during fighting, and the U.N. said it appeared that Israeli artillery had hit the building. The Israeli military said gunmen had fired mortar bombs from near the school and it shot back in response.

Earlier, Israeli shelling killed at least 30 people in Gaza, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up pressure on Hamas even after the army completes its core mission of destroying a tunnel network that extends into Israel.

Netanyahu says Gaza's dominant Hamas faction bears ultimate responsibility for civilian casualties, accusing gunmen and rocket-launching squads of using residents in densely populated areas as "human shields".

In Rafah, Fatah faction leader and local resident Ashraf Goma said Israeli forces were bombarding the town from air, ground and sea and locals were unable to deal with the wounded and the dead.

"Bodies of the wounded are bleeding in the streets and other corpses are laid on the road with no one able to recover them.

"I saw a man on a donkey cart bringing seven bodies into the hospital. Bodies are being kept in ice-cream refrigerators, in flower and vegetable coolers," Goma told Reuters.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said that so far on Sunday at least 13 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel. One was intercepted by Israel's anti-missile system and the rest landed in open areas.

Israel intensified attacks in the area of Rafah along the border with Egypt, where 23-year-old officer Hadar Goldin was feared captured there on Friday shortly after what was to have been a 72-hour truce began.

The military later said Goldin, who was dragged by militants into a tunnel after two of his comrades were killed by a suicide bomber, had also died in action.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Goldin was a relative of his. "He and other soldiers who fell embarked on the campaign to restore quiet and security to Israel."

More than 30 tunnels and dozens of access shafts have been unearthed and were being blown up.

Israel expected to complete its mission to eliminate tunnels "probably within the next 24 hours or so," Lerner, the military spokesman, said.

Israel began its air and naval offensive against Gaza on July 8 following a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas and other guerrillas, later escalating the operation into ground incursions.

The fighting on Sunday pushed the Gaza death toll given by Palestinian officials to 1,766, most of them civilians. Israel has confirmed that 64 soldiers have died in combat, while Palestinian rockets have also killed three civilians in Israel.

The United Nations said 460,000 people had been displaced by the fighting - nearly a quarter of Gaza's population.

Britain believes the situation in the Gaza Strip has become intolerable, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said. He told the Daily Telegraph he was receiving thousands of emails from Britons "deeply disturbed" at events in Gaza.

 

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Summary

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas Sunday to stop fighting and urged the Jewish state to lift its blockade of Gaza.

Earlier Sunday an Israeli air strike killed 10 people and wounded about 30 others in a U.N.-run school in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said, as dozens died in Israeli shelling of the enclave and Hamas fired rockets at Israel.

Israeli media, on the 27th day of the fighting, reported that most Israeli troops had pulled out of Gaza, and Reuters TV footage showed a column of Israeli tanks and dozens of infantrymen leaving the enclave.

Earlier, Israeli shelling killed at least 30 people in Gaza, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up pressure on Hamas even after the army completes its core mission of destroying a tunnel network that extends into Israel.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said that so far on Sunday at least 13 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel.

Israel has confirmed that 64 soldiers have died in combat, while Palestinian rockets have also killed three civilians in Israel.


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