International Community Rips Israel Over Gaza
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By The Daily Star

Leaders around the world condemned Israel's attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip over the weekend, calling on both sides to end the recent escalation in violence.

EU president Slovenia said on Sunday that Israel's attacks were disproportionate and violated international law.

The strongly worded statement was issued shortly before EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana left on a hastily arranged trip for Israel and the Occupied West Bank to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

"The presidency condemns the recent disproportionate use of force ... against the Palestinian population in Gaza," the statement issued by the Slovenian presidency said.

"The presidency rejects collective punishment of the people of Gaza," it added, noting in particular the death of "innocent children."

"Such activities are contrary to international law. The presidency at the same time reiterates its condemnation of continued firing of rockets into Israeli territory and calls for its immediate end."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned what he called Israel's onslaught.

"While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed an injured so many civilians, including children," Ban told an emergency session of the Security Council on Saturday. "I call on Israel to cease such attacks."

"I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism," he added.

The United States also called on Sunday for an end to clashes and a resumption of peace negotiations after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended talks with Israel.

"The violence needs to stop and the talks need to resume," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

The head of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said on Sunday it was dispatching aid to the Gaza Strip, describing Israel's assault as a "war crime."

"Four trucks laden with medical supplies are heading to Gaza [Sunday], and more aid will follow," Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told reporters in Amman. "The Israeli assault on Gaza is a heinous war crime, and the international silence is shocking."

"The Security Council has failed to issue a resolution to condemn the killings of children," Ihsanoglu complained.

Also Sunday, Saudi Arabia compared Israel's deadly assault on Gaza to Nazi war crimes and urged a halt to its "mass killings" of Palestinians.

"Saudi Arabia, which condemns the Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people and the threats of Israeli officials to turn Gaza into an inferno, sees that Israel through its actions is copying the war crimes of the Nazis," an unidentified Saudi official told the official Saudi Press Agency. "Saudi Arabia calls on the international community to ... work to stop the Israeli war machine and prevent it from carrying out mass killings and destroying the rights and property of the Palestinian people."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is one of Israel's few Muslim allies, also condemned the Jewish state's operations in Gaza as excessive and inhumane.

"It is not possible for us to approve of the recent inhumane practice in Gaza. Children, civilians are being killed with disproportionate use of force," Erdogan told a gathering of his Justice and Development Party's (AKP) youth branches in Ankara. "There is no humane or legal justification for the attacks in Gaza. We, the Turkish Republic, openly condemn Israel's attitude."

Erdogan charged that Israel had failed to follow Turkey's advice to resolve the problem through negotiations and said that his Cabinet would take up the issue on Monday "to determine what steps to take."

Spain's government expressed concern on Sunday over the escalating violence in Gaza and urged Israel to show "restraint" in its response to rocket fire from the territory.

"The government of Spain expresses its deep concern over the escalation of violence in Gaza, which has produced a high number of civilian victims,," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "The government reiterates its call that the Palestinian faction in Gaza stop launching rockets against Israel, which put in grave danger the population and do not serve the Palestinian national interest," it added.

"On the other hand, Spain asks Israel to show restraint in its response to these attacks and show its full respect for international humanitarian law and avoid causing victims among the civilian population."

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema on Sunday "forcefully" demanded that Israel spare civilians.

"D'Alema joins the calls of the international community for the cessation of Israeli military operations in Gaza, as well as the immediate halt of senseless Kassam rocket attacks," a Foreign Ministry statement said. "While showing his deep anguish for the civilian victims on both sides, the minister forcefully asks that Israeli military incursions do not affect the unarmed population of Gaza already suffering these past several months from deprivation and difficulties."

D'Alema is "deeply concerned by this new phase of violence that threatens to place the peace process ... in grave danger," the statement added.

"Italy is currently engaged in intensive contacts with its main partners to see that the international community implements appropriate measures to remind the parties involved of the necessity for dialogue and negotiation instead of force and violence," it added.

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict appealed for an end to the conflict in Gaza.

"Only by showing absolute respect for human life, even if it is that of the enemy, can one hope to give a future of peace and coexistence to both of those peoples who have their roots in the Holy Land," he said in his Sunday address to pilgrims and tourists in St Peter's Square. "I renew my pressing appeal to the authorities, both Israeli and Palestinian, to stop this spiral of violence, unilaterally, unconditionally."

Karen Abu Zayd, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said she was "horrified" by the mounting civilian death toll from Israel's attacks but also condemned rocket strikes on Israel launched from Gaza.

"I am horrified by the violence engulfing Gaza, where the death toll of innocent civilians, including children, rises each hour," she said in a statement from Gaza. "I ask that the international community intervene to help put an end to this deadly and destructive violence."

Human rights group Amnesty International said that while rocket attacks from Gaza show a "callous disregard" for civilian life, the Jewish state's retaliation was disproportionate.

"All unlawful attacks must stop," it said. "Israeli forces must put an immediate end to disproportionate attacks and collective punishment in Gaza and Palestinian armed groups must immediately stop the barrage of rockets into southern Israel."

The director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program, Malcolm Smart, said Israel had a legal obligation to protect civilians in Gaza.

On the Palestinians, he said it was "high time" leaders of the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority took "effective steps" to prevent and punish rocket attacks on Israel.

"We condemn all attacks on civilians, but unlawful attacks by one side cannot justify violations by the other," he added, accusing both sides of recklessness. "At the same time, the Palestinian armed groups who launch frequent rocket attacks from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns not only show a callous disregard for the lives of Israeli civilians but also expose the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip to the danger of Israeli attacks."

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