UK & World News

  • 31 July 2014, 21:28

440,000 Gazans Displaced As Israel Boosts Troops

The United Nations has said almost 24% of Gaza's population have fled their homes, as the US warns Israel the number of civilian casualties is "too high."

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told a UN Security Council hearing the total number of displaced people in Gaza now stands at 440,000.

That includes 240,000 people who have sought refuge in UN shelters.

A further 200,000 people are believed to have fled to friends or relatives since Israel launched its offensive earlier this month in the face of "persistent" Hamas rocket attacks.

The head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), meanwhile, called for urgent action in Gaza, saying Palestinians are facing a "precipice".

Pierre Krahenbuhl said those in UN shelters are facing "dire conditions" as a result of the "extensive and often disproportionate use of force".

After the meeting, the UN Security Council called for humanitarian pauses in fighting.

It also expressed "grave disappointment" that repeated calls for a ceasefirehad not been heeded.

A further nine Palestinians were killed in an airstrike in central Gaza on Thursday evening.

According to Palestinian officials, the total death toll from 24 days of fighting has now exceeded 1,400.

Earlier Israel announced that some 16,000 additional troops are joining the operation in Gaza "to allow troops on the ground to rest."

The boost takes the number of reservists involved to 86,000.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuhas ordered its ground forces to locate and destroy a warren of cross-border tunnels which it says Hamas has used to infiltrate southern towns and army bases.

MrNetanyahu told a cabinet meeting he was determined to finish the job "with or without a ceasefire."

He said: "I wont agree to any proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to complete this important task for the sake of Israel's security."

Three Israeli soldiers were killed on Wednesday by a booby trap detonated as they uncovered a tunnel shaft, the army said, bringing the total military death toll to 56.

Three civilians have also been killed in Israeli, including a Thai national.

With further fatalities reported in Gaza on Thursday, the United States issued its strongest condemnation yet of Israel's military operation.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters: "The civilian casualties in Gaza have been too high."

"It's become clear that the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards - their very high and very public standards - for protecting civilian life."

The White House, meanwhile, directly linked Israel to involvement in theshelling of a UN-run school housing more than 3,000 refugeesfor the first time,describing the attack as "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible."

Spokesman Josh Earnest said: "It does not appear there is lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved."

The school attack left 16 people dead, including children.

Israel has said it is looking into the case, but has repeated it does not have a policy of targeting civilians.

It was the second attack on one of the UN's 80 schools, which are designated safe zones.

On Wednesday the Pentagon said it had agreed to an "emergency" Israeli request to stock up on grenades and mortar rounds from a store it has kept in the country for several years.

Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby said the request was received on July 20 and approved three days later, without needing White House approval.

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