Leaders call for end to violence


CONDEMNATION:ISRAEL'S BOMBARDMENT of Gaza continued to draw widespread criticism yesterday, with world leaders and human rights groups among those calling for an end to the violence which has so far resulted in the deaths of an estimated 300 Gazans.

After four hours of emergency talks, the UN Security Council urged the cessation of all hostilities, including rocket attacks from Gaza, and expressed "serious concern" at the escalation of the situation.

Also calling for a ceasefire were UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Middle East envoy Tony Blair and France, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Protests took place outside Israeli embassies worldwide as people voiced their opposition to the air strikes on Gaza.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious decree ordering Muslims around the world to defend Gazans against Israeli attacks "in any way possible". Tehran had already described the bombardment as "unforgivable".

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin repeated his strong condemnation of the violence, saying he deplored in particular the killing of personnel associated with the UN agency UNRWA.

"I repeat that there is no military solution to the current situation in Gaza and join with others in the international community in urging an immediate end to the Israeli military campaign and air strikes against Gaza as well as an end to all rocket attacks against southern Israel launched from Gaza," Mr Martin said.

"The only viable solution at this stage is the restoration of a genuine and fully honoured ceasefire throughout Gaza and southern Israel.

"All crossing points into Gaza must also be opened immediately for the passage of vital humanitarian supplies and to enable agencies such as UNRWA to continue to play its vital, life-saving role," he added.

Amnesty International also condemned Israel's actions.

"Such disproportionate use of force by Israel is unlawful and risks igniting further violence in the whole region," it said.

The human rights group did not spare Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups which it said shared responsibility for the escalation.

"Their continuous rocket attacks on towns and villages in southern Israel are unlawful and can never be justified," Amnesty said, adding that the international community should intervene without delay to ensure civilians caught up in the violence are protected.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), which this year called for a boycott and disinvestment campaign against Israel, denounced the air strikes as "totally disproportionate".

In a statement, Ictu said the attacks give "further cause for grievance to the Palestinian people and strengthen the hand of all those opposed to a peaceful settlement in the Middle East".

A statement issued by several Muslim organisations in Ireland, including the Irish Council of Imams, condemned Israel's actions as "barbaric".