Two girls hold placards as Palestinian activists demonstrate outside the United Nations offices in Beirut .
Two girls hold placards as Palestinian activists demonstrate outside the United Nations offices in Beirut .

Tank shells hit a compound housing a UN school in Beit Hanun in Gaza Strip, killing at least 15 people

Gaza/Jerusalem : Amid frantic diplomatic efforts to put an end to bloodshed in Gaza, a defiant Israel pressed on with its relentless bombardment of Hamas-ruled territory as the raging conflict that has killed over 770 Palestinians and 34 Israelis showed no signs of abating.

Israel focused its attacks on southeast of Gaza, with residents fleeing areas which came under heavy bombing. Over 70 people were killed in Gaza, taking the overall Palestinian toll to over 770 since Israel launched its military offensive to halt rocket fire by Hamas on July 8.

In the latest incident, Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a UN school in Beit Hanun in northern Gaza Strip, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens. In another tragic incident, seven Palestinians were killed in a series of Israeli air strikes and tank fire in a flashpoint area near Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. The latest casualties, included a family of six with two young children.

Israeli forces have destroyed at least 475 houses while 2,644 have been partially damaged. Some 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals had also suffered varying degrees of destruction, Palestinian officials said.

Thirty two Israeli soldiers, two civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed in the conflict. As the death toll mounted, UN Human Rights Council ordered a probe into Israel’s offensive on Gaza.

India along with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa voted in favour of the Palestinian-drafted resolution on “Ensuring Respect for international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem”.

Israel’s close ally US was the only one of the 47 member states to oppose the probe supported by 29 countries. Describing UNHCR as a “kangaroo court”, Israel slammed the move as a “travesty”.

“This investigation by a kangaroo court is a foregone conclusion,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. Taking a dig at the UNHCR decision, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman labeled the UN body as the “council for the rights of terrorists”.

Kerry reaches out to Hamas allies to press for truce

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on Thursday to his counterparts in Qatar and Turkey, which support the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as he pressed for a Gaza ceasefire. Kerry – who is in Egypt, which has drafted a truce proposal for the Israel-Hamas conflict – spoke by phone with the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey, reports AFP.

The top US diplomat was hoping Qatar and Turkey would use their influence to encourage Hamas to accept a ceasefire plan, which the Islamist group has so far rejected, the official said. Kerry also spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after meeting him for two hours.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal is based in Qatar, while Turkey’s Islamist-oriented Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has harshly criticised Israel’s assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza as well as Egypt’s role in trying to clinch a ceasefire.

Hamas has rejected the ceasefire proposal by Egypt’s military-backed government insisting that Israel end its eight-year siege on the impoverished Gaza Strip. But a senior Hamas official acknowledged that it was unrealistic to expect the blockade to end in tandem with a ceasefire and instead called for a firm agreement on principles on how to lift the siege.

Israel, which initially accepted a truce, has said it will keep up its military campaign as it eliminates tunnels that infiltrate the Jewish state from Gaza. Officials said Kerry, who briefed President Obama on his efforts to halt the bloodshed in Gaza, would be making more telephone calls from Cairo.

Harinder Mishra     

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