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UNSC calls for immediate ceasefire as Gaza toll rises to 501

United Nations: The UN Security Council today called for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, even as UN chief Ban Ki-moon met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Qatar in the first leg of his Middle East tour which aims to end the escalating conflict that has killed 501 Palestinians and 20 Israelis.

The powerful 15-nation Council held a late-night emergency meeting yesterday and expressed serious concern about the escalation of violence in and around Gaza.

The Palestinian death toll today rose to 501 after bodies of 16 people who were killed in an Israeli air strike on a house in the south of the Gaza Strip were found this morning.

Gaza crisis
A convoy of Israeli armoured personnel carrier roll towards the Israeli-Gaza border in an army deployment area on July 20. Photo: AFP

Israel has said its 18 soldiers have been killed since the ground operation began last week, the largest number of Israeli soldiers killed in combat since the 2006 Lebanon war.

"The members of the Security Council express serious concern about the growing numbers of casualties," said Rwandan Ambassador Eugene Richard Gasana, whose country holds the 15-member Security Council's rotating presidency for July.

"The members of the Security Council call for an immediate cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement" reached between Israel and Hamas, he said. The Council also emphasized the need to improve the humanitarian situation, including through humanitarian pauses, such as the five-hour truce brokered last week by the Secretary-General's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry.

The emergency UNSC meeting came even as Ban is in the region as part of a visit aimed at expressing solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians and help bringing about a ceasefire.

He met with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. "As I travel the region, I will continue to press for an (immediate) ceasefire an immediate end to the Israeli military operation in Gaza and the rocket fire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad," Ban said earlier at a press conference alongwith Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya.

He reiterated his demand that all sides respect international humanitarian law and stop the ongoing violence.

"While I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children, have been killed in Israeli military strikes in the Shejaiyah neighborhood in Gaza," Ban said.

"I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians," he added.

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