Israel, Hamas Defy UN Call for Cease-Fire | NBC New York

Israel, Hamas Defy UN Call for Cease-Fire



    Palestinian demonstrators use sling-shots to hurl stones at Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against Israel's military operation in Gaza, in the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah on Thursday.

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip  — A U.N. resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire failed to curb violence in the Gaza Strip on Friday, as Israeli jets and ground troops hammered away at Hamas targets and Islamic militants launched rockets at southern Israel.

    The Israeli prime minister's office said the U.N. action was not practical, and senior Cabinet ministers decided to press on with a punishing military operation now entering its third week. Israel will only stop, they said, when it succeeds in ending rocket fire on southern Israel from the Hamas-ruled territory.

    Hopes that Thursday's Security Council resolution would consolidate days of exhaustive diplomatic efforts and end the worst fighting in Gaza in decades were further tempered by dismissive remarks from Hamas, angry that it was not consulted. On Gaza's ruined streets, meanwhile, there was no sign of a letup in fighting.

    Israel launched a crippling air offensive on Dec. 27 in response to intensified rocket fire that has disrupted life in southern Israel. A week later, it began a ground operation, with artillery and tank fire that has contributed to a surge in civilian casualties that continued Friday.

    Seven members of the Salha family were killed in an Israeli airstrike on their house overnight. On Friday, crowds in neat rows bowed in prayer in front of their bodies, wrapped in funeral shrouds and flags.

    In a hospital in Beit Lahiya, a northern Gaza town that has been particularly hard-hit, doctors treated a young girl whose left arm was torn off at the shoulder. She lay on a stretcher with a terrified expression on her face.

    Such scenes have triggered outrage throughout the Islamic world and elsewhere. There have been daily protests in the Middle East and in Europe, where there has also been a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

    In Geneva, the U.N.'s top human rights official called for an independent investigation of possible war crimes in Gaza for an incident in which Palestinians say Israeli forces shelled a house full of civilians, killing 30 people. Israel's military said it was not aware of the specific incident but would not have deliberately targeted the building.

    By late afternoon Friday, more than 20 Palestinians had been killed, pushing the death toll to around 780 in the two-week conflict, according to Gaza health officials who say at least half of those killed were civilians. Thirteen Israelis have also been killed, four of them by rocket fire, the rest in battle in Gaza.

    The U.N. Security Council resolution approved Thursday night called for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

    While the call is tantamount to a demand on the parties, it doesn't require Israel's troops to pull out of Gaza until there is a durable cease-fire. The resolution also calls on U.N. member states to intensify efforts to provide guarantees in Gaza to sustain a lasting truce, including prevention of illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition — a key Israeli concern.

    A six-month truce unraveled with increased Hamas rocket fire in November, and Israeli officials reluctant to accept a new cease-fire have said it allowed the group to bring in more advanced weaponry through the hundreds of smuggling tunnels snaking beneath the Gaza border from Egypt's Sinai desert.

    In the country's first official response to the U.N. resolution, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said more Hamas rockets fired at Israel Friday "only prove that the U.N.'s decision is not practical and will not be kept in practice by the Palestinian murder organizations."

    Senior Cabinet ministers issued a statement saying the military offensive would continue in order to protect Israeli citizens.

    Hamas also dismissed the U.N. resolution, and spokesmen expressed annoyance that they were not consulted.

    "Nobody consulted Hamas or talked to Hamas. Nobody put Hamas in the picture and yet Hamas is required to accept it. This is unacceptable," said Mohammed Nazzal, a senior Hamas official based in Syria's capital, speaking to Al-Arabiya TV.

    Hamas has said it won't accept any agreement that does not include the full opening of Gaza's blockaded border crossings. The U.N. resolution emphasized the need to open all crossings, which Israel and Egypt have kept sealed since Hamas militants seized control of the territory 18 months ago.

    Israel is unlikely to agree to that demand, as it would allow Hamas to strengthen its hold on Gaza.

    In Lebanon, Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Al-Arabiya that the group "is not interested in it (the U.N. resolution) because it does not meet the demands of the movement."

    Seven Hamas officials crossed into Egypt on Friday through the Gaza border crossing at Rafah, on their way to Cairo for Egypt-hosted negotiations on a truce with Israel.

    The Islamic militant group, which was behind suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israelis in past years, has been largely shunned by Western powers since coming to political power in 2006 elections.

    That isolation has only deepened since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 in a violent power struggle with the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Moderate Arab governments as well as the U.S. and its allies in Europe have supported Abbas' government, which was left in control only of the West Bank.

    The division has complicated efforts to advance peace efforts and reach a cease-fire in the latest fighting.

    Despite the cool reception to the U.N. action, the foreign ministers of Germany and Spain were to visit the region to promote the U.N. resolution.

    Israeli military operations showed no signs of letting up Friday, despite a three-hour lull in fighting that has been instituted for three days running to allow aid to reach Gaza's distressed people.

    One Israeli airstrike killed two Hamas militants and another unidentified man, while another flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza, killing the seven members of the Salha family, including an infant, Hamas officials said.

    Two Israeli missiles clipped the roof of a building housing the offices of Iran's English-language Press TV and a sister Arabic-language network, lightly injuring one person, said the channel's correspondent, Ashraf Shannon. The military said it had no knowledge of any attacks in the area.

    Heavy clashes were reported northeast of Gaza City as Israeli troops advanced under the cover of Apache helicopters firing machine guns.

    Fares Alwan, 49, said he was eating with his family when their house came under fire.

    "I took my kids and wife and started running away for cover," Alwan said. "We saw wounded people in the street while we were running."

    Later Friday, some residents received recorded phone messages said to be from Israel's military warning of a planned escalation. A military spokesman said he had no knowledge of the calls.

    Hamas rockets also hit in and around two of the largest southern cities in Israel, Beersheba and Ashkelon.

    In Gaza's rubble-strewn streets, there was concern of a worsening humanitarian situation, as a U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees suspended aid deliveries and the Red Cross restricted its medical aid operations to Gaza City, where it has a team assisting surgeons at the main Shifa hospital.

    The decisions by the two organizations came after they said Israeli fire killed two contractors delivering aid for the U.N. and injured the driver of a Red Cross truck in separate incidents Thursday.

    The World Food Program and UNICEF said they are also not moving any supplies into or around Gaza.

    U.N. officials said Friday that they planned to resume aid operations "as soon as practical," based on Israeli assurances that aid workers would be better protected.

    Gaza's people have become increasingly desperate for food, water, fuel and medical assistance. One million people are without electricity and 750,000 are without running water, according to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency.