U.N. seeks cease-fire in Middle East conflict

January 09, 2009|By Joel Greenberg | Joel Greenberg,Chicago Tribune

JERUSALEM - Israel yesterday faced a growing confrontation with aid groups alarmed by the toll its offensive against Hamas is taking on civilians, while the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution early today calling for an immediate and durable Gaza cease-fire.

Israel and Hamas are not party to the agreement - which was passed by a vote of 14-0 with the U.S. abstaining - and it will be up to them to stop their military activities. But the resolution, which followed three days of intense negotiations between ministers from key Arab nations and Western powers, would allow for the opening of border crossings to Gaza.

Meanwhile, as dozens of bodies were pulled from the rubble of bombed houses in the Gaza Strip yesterday, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides food aid to some 750,000 Gazans and runs clinics and schools, said it was suspending work after its vehicles and buildings had come under fire. A driver working for the group was killed by Israeli shelling.

Another aid group, the International Committee of the Red Cross, demanded access to wounded Palestinians trapped in the fighting, accusing the military of failing to assist them. Under international pressure, Israel halted attacks for three hours to enable Gazans to stock up on basic supplies and to let medics collect the dead and wounded.

Emergency workers said they rescued 100 trapped survivors yesterday and found between 40 and 50 corpses in a devastated residential block south of Gaza City that the Israeli military had kept off-limits for four days. Aid officials said they were concerned that there were more casualties in areas that had not been reached by rescue teams and where access has been impeded during the fighting.

"There are still people under demolished houses - we are sure of it," said Khaled Abuzaid, an ambulance driver for the Red Cross who treated survivors at the site Wednesday and yesterday. "But without water or electricity, we are sure they will die."

Palestinian health officials said that the death toll after 13 days of Israeli attacks had risen to 765, and that over 3,000 people have been wounded. Hamas has not said how many fighters it has lost, though the Israeli military says it has killed scores of gunmen.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting yesterday , bringing to nine the number of troops killed since a ground operation began Saturday. Another soldier and four civilians have been killed by militant rocket and mortar attacks on Israel.

The Washington Post and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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