04/10/2004

Straw calls for Israeli restraint to end 'unnecessary suffering'

The British foreign secretary has called for restraint from the Israelis after causing "unnecessary suffering" during recent military incursions into the Gaza Strip.

Jack Straw was speaking after a bloody weekend of violence in the region which claimed the lives of at least 70 people.

The deaths occurred after Israeli forces conducted operations to silence Palestinian kassam rocket-launching batteries. The military incursion into the Gaza Strip was authorised after two Israeli children – Dorit Aniso, 2, and Yuval Abebeh, 4 - were killed last week by a kassam rocket fired at their Sderot home in southern Israel.

Up until yesterday, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said that it had hit seven kassam rocket-launching cells, including one which was struck immediately after launching rockets into the Western Negev. The IDF claimed that three terrorists died in that incident.

Mr Straw spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom this morning and outlined how he was "deeply concerned" by the level of violence in the Gaza Strip over the past week.

"I have made clear that while Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorism, it must act within international law; its response must be proportional," he said.

"IDF action is causing civilian deaths and injuries and unnecessary suffering. I call on Israel to act with restraint, and on the Palestinian Authority to fulfil its Roadmap commitments on security. Both sides should work to put a stop to bloodshed and violence."

However, Israel's Chief of General Staff has warned that the operation would "continue for as long as we need".

Israeli authorities have also said that more than 460 rockets have been fired at its civilian population.

The army chief added: "Overtime in our battle against terrorism we have concluded that there is no one solution to this problem. This is an ongoing operation, an ongoing process and it will continue as long as our forces estimate it will take to carry out this operation whether it be a matter of days or weeks."

Hamas, an IDF spokesperson said, "intentionally" fires missiles from densely populated Palestinian areas. It thereby cynically exploits their own civilians as human shields, causing them much pain and suffering, the spokesperson concluded.

"The Palestinian Authority has thousands of policemen and security personnel in the northern Gaza Strip. They are doing nothing to halt the firing of Kassam rockets, and it is evident that the Palestinian Authority is also interested in prolonging the violence," the spokesperson said.

Last night, the Israeli air force killed a senior Hamas terrorist during a rocket attack on a vehicle in Gaza City.

Mahadi Mushtaha, 34, was a "senior member of the Qassam production and development apparatus in the Gaza Strip", according to the Israeli military.

A second man, Haled Amariti, 28, who was believed to be a Hamas member, was also killed in the attack.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also called on the Israelis to halt its military incursions into the Gaza Strip. He also urged the Palestinian Authority to "press militants to hold their fire".

The IDF operations “have led to the deaths of scores of Palestinians, among them many civilians, including children”, a spokesman for Mr Annan said on Sunday.

Both sides in the conflict have a legal obligation to protect all civilians, Mr Annan added.

Israel has said that it intends to disengage from the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005.

(gmcg/mb)

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