BEIRUT

Middle East

UNRWA chief: Palestinians 'facing a precipice'

U.N. Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York July 31, 2014. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

UNITED NATIONS: Palestinians are "facing a precipice" in Gaza, the top U.N. refugee official there told the Security Council Thursday in a strongly worded appeal for action.

With more than 220,000 Palestinians already sheltering in UN facilities - four times the number from the last Gaza conflict in 2008-2009 - Philippe Krahenbuhl said he had reached a breaking point.

"I believe the population is facing a precipice and appeal to the international community to take the steps necessary to address this extreme situation," the head of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA told the 15-member Council.

"We have exceeded the tolerable limit that we can accommodate," Krahenbuhl said, adding that he was "alarmed" by the latest Israeli instructions to civilians to evacuate two areas in Gaza.

"It is past time for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire as called for by the Council," he said.

"The illegal blockade of Gaza must be lifted."

Krahenbuhl spoke to the Council by audiolink from Gaza after Israel vowed to press on with its military campaign to destroy a network of tunnels used by Hamas militants to attack Israel.

International alarm has grown over the civilian death toll from 24 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip, with the Security Council calling for a humanitarian truce in a statement issued early Monday.

More than 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting, along with 56 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

 

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