Israel came under harsh criticism from the UN, EU and several capitals around the world Sunday, as fighting in Gaza persisted with no ceasefire on the horizon.
In New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon used especially harsh language to slam the Israel Defense Forces for an attack near an UNRWA school in Gaza during which 10 Palestinians were reportedly killed, calling it a moral outrage and a criminal act.
“The attack is yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law, which clearly requires protection by both parties of Palestinian civilians, UN staff and UN premises, among other civilian facilities,” he said in a statement. “This madness must stop.”
“United Nations shelters must be safe zones, not combat zones. The Israel Defense Forces have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites. This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act.”
Ban further stated that he is “profoundly dismayed over the appalling escalation of violence and loss of hundreds of Palestinian civilian life since the breach of the humanitarian ceasefire” on Friday.
“The resurgence in fighting has only exacerbated the man-made humanitarian and health crisis wreaking havoc in Gaza,” Ban said.
The European Union called for an immediate end to the “intolerable violence” in Gaza, but condemned the rocket fire on Israel and reiterated the state’s right to defend itself – as long as its response maintains “proportionality.”
“Gaza has been suffering from intolerable violence for more than three weeks already,” read a joint statement issued on Sunday by the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. “We deplore the terrible loss of lives, including innocent women and children. Many have been injured, property and livelihoods have been destroyed. This needs to stop immediately.”
At the same time, the EU strongly condemned the continued rocket fire at Israel, the statement continued. “It constitutes an unacceptable threat to its citizens. Israel has the right to live in peace in its recognized borders. Legitimate defense needs to maintain proportionality. We have all seen these cycles in the past and we know that there are limits regarding what military operations can achieve…The bloodshed needs to stop.”
The EU is ready to “support actively negotiations, confidence building measures, reconstruction and reconciliation efforts,” the statement read. “No more lives should be wasted. Palestinian and Israeli leaders need to exercise courage by putting an end to this senseless violence. They also need to exercise courage and wisdom to move beyond these cycles of violence and advance towards arrangements that will ensure peaceful and dignified coexistence, based on mutual respect.”
Israel on Saturday said it would begin to pull troops out of Gaza, but said the continuation of the operation would depend on completing its objectives and Hamas ending rocket fire on Israel. An agreed-to 72-hour ceasefire was aborted shortly after it began Friday after Hamas gunmen attacked and killed a group of Israeli soldiers operating to destroy a tunnel near Rafah in the southern Strip.
On Sunday, Palestinian factions and Western envoys met in Cairo to discuss a ceasefire, though Israel did not send any officials.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Egypt, called on Israel and Hamas to stop fighting and urged the Jewish state to lift its blockade of Gaza.
Wang made his comments at a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukri.
“Both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, should immediately and comprehensively cease fire, including airstrikes, ground operations and rocket fire to save the people and peace in the region,” said Wang, whose comments were translated into Arabic.
Palestinian terrorists have fired over 2,500 rockets from Gaza into Israel since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8 in which the IDF aimed to bring an eventual end to the rocket fire as well as destroy a network of tunnels, dug by Hamas under the border and into Israel, that have been used to launch terror attacks inside Israeli territory.
Several soldiers have been killed in the past few weeks after being ambushed by terrorists who emerged from the tunnels.
Gazan health officials put the death toll there at over 1,800, though Israel contends many of those killed were combatants.
“All actions that involve excessive use of force and that lead to civilian casualties are unacceptable,” Wang declared.
Wang also said Israel “should lift its blockade on Gaza, release Palestinian prisoners (but) at the same time Israel’s security concerns must be considered.”
China will provide $ 1.5 million in urgent humanitarian aid to war-battered Gaza, he added.
Wang said Beijing backs Cairo’s ceasefire proposal and efforts undertaken by other countries to end the fighting in Gaza.
Beijing wanted both Israel and Hamas to “abort the use of force and work on reaching a solution that leads to mutual security through responsible negotiations and suitable mechanisms.”
Shoukri said Cairo was trying to reach a solution which “addresses the roots of the conflict, through establishing a state for the Palestinian people.”
A Palestinian delegation of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Palestinian Authority was in Cairo for talks, although Israel said it will not send anyone to the negotiations.
Cairo, the traditional broker in conflicts between Israel and Hamas, invited Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to thrash out a durable truce in Gaza based on an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond also on Sunday demanded an unconditional ceasefire to resolve the “intolerable” situation in Gaza, adding that the British public was “deeply disturbed” by what it was seeing.
Hammond, who took over from William Hague last month, told the Sunday Telegraph that the killing had to stop, having already said he was “gravely concerned” by the number of civilian casualties from Israel’s military operation in Gaza.
“The British public has a strong sense that the situation of the civilian population in Gaza is intolerable and must be addressed -— and we agree with them,” he told the newspaper.
“It’s a broad swath of British public opinion that feels deeply disturbed by what it is seeing on its television screens,” he added.
The former defense minister acknowledged the concerns of both Hamas and Israel, but insisted that they could not be allowed to stand in the way of a humanitarian ceasefire.
“We have to get the killing to stop,” he told the paper.
An Israeli army spokesman on Sunday told AFP that it had begun withdrawing some ground troops from the Gaza Strip and redeploying others, but operations against Hamas would continue.
The office of British Prime Minister David Cameron on Saturday accused opposition Labor Party leader Ed Miliband of “playing politics” after he criticized Cameron’s “silence” over Israel’s actions.
French President Francois Hollande also called for an immediate end to the fighting as he took part in an event on Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.
“France and Germany, beyond their suffering and bereavements, had the courage to make up,” Hollande said at Hartmannswillerkopf during an ceremony that was also attended by his German counterpart Joachim Gauck.
“It was the best way to honor the dead and provide a guarantee of peace to the living,” he added in a speech where he also remembered the conflicts still raging around the world, including the confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
“All efforts must be made to impose, today more than ever, a ceasefire in Gaza and end the suffering of civilian populations,” he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.