by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, July 31 (Xinhua) -- A divided UN Security Council failed once again on Thursday to take action on the Gaza crisis, repeating instead its call for humanitarian aid, protection of civilians and an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
Only hours later, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced an agreement for a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
They said the UN Representative in Jerusalem, Special Coordinator Robert Serry, had "received assurances that all parties have agreed to an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza," beginning at 8 a.m. local time Friday and that it could be extended.
Security Council members were briefed earlier via teleconference during a formal meeting by Undersecretary-General Valerie Amos, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl of the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinians.
The panel of 15 then retired to a closed-door consultation on the crisis.
Afterward, "elements of a press statement" were read out to media representatives by Ambassador Olivier Nduhungirehe, deputy permanent representative of Rwanda, this month's president of the Security Council.
Members of the council said it was "a grave disappointment that the messages in the PRST of July 28 have not been heeded," he said, referring to the Presidential Statement (PRST) adopted in a highly unusual midnight Sunday session and read out in the formal chamber early Monday.
"They reiterated in the strongest terms that the PRST must be implemented," said Nduhungirehe after Thursday's session. "Council members called for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire that can lead to a sustainable cease-fire based upon the Egyptian proposal. Pending this, council members encouraged the use of humanitarian poses. They called on member states to donate to UNRWA's appeal."
With an eye to ending the crisis that began July 8,Cairo proposed there be an immediate cease-fire followed by talks between the Israelis and Hamas, the militants governing Gaza, separate from the West Bank Palestinians, under the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas rocket attacks on Israel prompted Israeli retaliation by artillery and air strikes, finally leading to a ground assault on tunnel complexes earlier this week.
While Abbas, the Arab League, the Israelis and the United States accept Egypt's proposal, Hamas rejects it.
"The Israeli military have advised that 44 percent of Gaza is a battle zone," Amos told the council. "Most people are not able to leave Gaza even to get urgent medical attention. So they come to the United Nations facilities for protection when their home and neighborhoods come under fire."
However, she said more than 103 UN facilities have come under attack.
"The parties to the conflict have an obligation, an absolute obligation to protect civilians from direct or indiscriminate attacks," she said. "Under international law, United Nations operations, personnel and premises must remain inviolable and parties to the conflict should protect humanitarian workers. There can be no justification for failing to do so."
UNRWA's Krahenbuhl said, "What I saw today, the terrible wounds, devastated me."
He said he saw "a young boy named Yousef because I have always refused the anonymity in death and injury. Too often reports from war zones refer to list of numbers. The Palestinian children I saw today are not statistics and behind every death and injury there is a story and a destiny to be respected."
"The population is facing a precipice," he said, appealing to the international community to take the steps necessary to address "this extreme situation."
"Should further large scale displacement indeed occur, the occupying power, according to international humanitarian law, would have to assume direct responsibility for these people," Krahenbuhl said, referring to Israel's obligations.
"No one wants to see broken little bodies," he later told reporters about the wounded children he had seen. "We think that not enough precautionary measures have been taken."
UNWRA is sheltering 220,000 people in 85 schools throughout Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, "comparable to my hometown of Geneva." Another 220,000 internally displaced people were seeking refuge in government buildings, hospital grounds or with families and friends.
While food and bedding needs were being met for the displaced UNRWA is aiding, "hygiene is critical, because of the lack of clean water and electricity," he said.
Ambassador Ron Prosor of Israel, speaking to reporters outside the council chambers after the formal session, said, "It's time to abandon this romantic notion of Hamas as freedom fighters. It should be clear by now to everyone in the international community that this is a radical terror organization with a global Islamic agenda."
"Every missile that is being fired has an imprint, 'Made in Teheran', and every terror tunnel, basically funded by dollars under the auspices and generous donations of the Emir of Qatar," he said. "So, this is what we have to deal with."
The Palestinian Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, then told reporters, "The representative of the criminal regime and government of Israel tried his best to tell you stories of defending the conduct of his government which cannot be defended."
"When you put 1.8 million people, Palestinian civilians in this huge prison, denying them food, because they cannot fish in the sea, denying them electricity, denying them safe places, denying them adequate medical facilities, denying them clear water, what are you doing? Isn't that genocide?"