THUNDER BAY – International News – The civilian death toll in Gaza has continued to rise since the new wave of violence between the territory and Israel intensified last week, the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees warned today, reiterating its call for all sides to stop the violence.
“The situation [for civilians] is bad,” said the spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Christopher Gunness. “This is a very densely populated place. There are many, many civilians. More than half of Gaza’s 1.7 million people are children, and what we are seeing are rockets flying out of this area, populated largely by civilians, and airstrikes coming in. The civilian death toll is rising and it will continue to rise, unless the words of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are heeded by the parties on the ground.”
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a statement, “In recent days and weeks, Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza have made normal life impossible for over one million Israelis. No government would tolerate a situation where nearly a fifth of its people live under a constant barrage of rockets and missile fire, and Israel will not tolerate this situation. This is why my government has instructed the Israeli Defense Forces to conduct surgical strikes against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. And this is why Israel will continue to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people.
“I want to remind you that, seven years ago, Israel withdrew from every square inch of Gaza. Now, Hamas took over the areas we vacated. What did it do? Rather than build a better future for the residents of Gaza, the Hamas leadership, backed by Iran, turned Gaza into a terrorist stronghold. They fired thousand of rockets at our cities, at our towns, at our civilians, at our children. They’ve smuggled thousands of rockets and missiles into Gaza, and they deliberately place these rockets and missiles in civilian areas: in homes, in schools, near hospitals. This year alone, they fired over one thousand rockets and missiles at Israel, including close to 200 rockets in the last 24 hours.
“I’m stressing this because it’s important to understand one simple point. There is no moral symmetry; there is no moral equivalence, between Israel and the terrorist organizations in Gaza. The terrorists are committing a double war crime. They fire at Israeli civilians, and they hide behind Palestinian civilians. And, by contrast, Israel takes every measure to avoid civilian casualties. I saw today a picture of a bleeding Israeli baby. This picture says it all: Hamas deliberately targets our children, and they deliberately place their rockets next to their children. Despite this reality – and it’s a very difficult reality – Israel will continue to do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties.
“I have to say that from my talks with world leaders, I have the clear understanding that they have a clear understanding of this. Yesterday I spoke to President Obama and I briefed him on Israel’s operations. I want to express my appreciation once again to President Obama for his unequivocal support for Israel’s right to defend itself. I also want to express my appreciation to the other world leaders I’ve had a chance to speak to in the last 24 hours: to President Hollande of France, to UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, to EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton and to Quartet representative Tony Blair. I want to thank them for their understanding of Israel’s need to defend itself, and Israel’s right to defend itself.
“In the past 24 hours Israel has made it clear that it will not tolerate rocket and missile attacks on its civilians. I hope that Hamas and the other terror organizations in Gaza got the message. If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people.”
The recent wave of violence – which includes rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza, and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza – have reportedly resulted in more than 90 Palestinians and three Israelis having been killed, with many others wounded.
UNRWA has 1.2 million beneficiaries in Gaza, where, last week, one of its staff members was killed in an Israeli airstrike.
“We are echoing the call of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in appealing to all sides to exercise utmost restraint, to de-escalate so that peace can begin to take hold,” Mr. Gunness said. “All sides must honour their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians.”
Yesterday, Mr. Ban, who is currently in Cairo, Egypt, renewed his appeal for an end to the ongoing violence, and strongly urged the parties to achieve an immediate ceasefire.