Israel, Hamas look to UN as tensions rise

December 22, 2010 - 9:51:48 pm

JERUSALEM: Israel and Hamas looked to the United Nations yesterday as tensions rose along the volatile Gaza border after a series of Israeli air strikes in response to rocket fire from the strip.

Israel urged the UN Security Council on Tuesday to issue a “clear and resolute” message to Palestinian militants against firing rockets into its territory from Gaza, in a letter made public yesterday.

And Hamas said it would appeal to the international body to act against the “threat of further aggression against the Palestinians.”

The tit-for-tat appeals to the UN come after exchanges of fire along the Gaza border.

Militant groups in Gaza have fired 18 rockets and mortars into Israel since Sunday, and Israel has responded with air strikes against what it said were tunnels, militant training sites and weapons facilities in Gaza.

One rocket struck just metres from a kindergarten in a southern Israeli kibbutz, wounding a teenage girl.

“The incidents of the past several days are part of an escalation of terrorist attacks emanating from Gaza that target Israeli civilians, towns and military personnel,” Israel’s UN ambassador, Meron Reuben, said in the letter.

“Israel holds the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip completely responsible for all of these incidents, which are carried out in clear violation of international law.

“In response to such attacks, Israel has exercised and will continue to exercise its right to self-defence.”

The letter is addressed to the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who currently chairs the Security Council, and to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

It says three rockets and 18 mortars have been fired into parts of southern Israel from Gaza since Sunday alone.

“The Security Council, the secretary general and the international community must send a clear and resolute message that these attacks are unacceptable,” Israel said in the letter signed by Reuben.

Hamas said Israel was to blame.

“We will be in contact with several countries to explain the aggressive behaviour of the occupation forces and have been in touch with Egyptian officials to discuss these threats,” Hamas government spokesman Taher Al Nunu told reporters.

Also yesterday, the UN Middle East envoy issued a statement to “condemn the firing of indiscriminate mortars and rockets by militant groups in Gaza at Israel, which has escalated in recent days.

“These attacks are in clear violation of international humanitarian law and endanger civilians in Israel,” said Robert Serry, while also calling on Israel to measure its military response.

“Israel has a right to self-defence, consistent with international humanitarian law. I urge Israel to exercise maximum restraint and take every precaution to ensure that its forces do not endanger civilians in Gaza, who all too often bear the brunt of escalations in violence.”

Hamas lashed out at Serry, saying his statement was one sided and that they would seek clarification from the UN to see “if Serry’s comments represent them or not.”

“We deplore this statement, which justifies the aggressive behaviour of the Israeli occupation and mixes the facts on the ground,” said Nunu.

On Tuesday, Israeli army chief Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi warned that the relative calm since Israel’s devastating Gaza offensive at the end of 2008 could quickly come to an end.

And military radio reported yesterday that the army is to deploy a tank battalion equipped with a new anti-rocket system along the Gaza border.