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Israel’s UN envoy decries ‘war crimes’ as UN Security Council meets

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Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Sunday accused Palestinian Islamist group Hamas of war crimes, vowing that it was time to “obliterate Hamas terror infrastructure”, as the UN Security Council met to discuss the conflict.

In a dramatic assault launched from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza on Saturday, Hamas militants stormed into Israeli towns, killing more than 600 people and escaping with dozens of hostages, in the deadliest day for Israel since the 1973 war.

“These are war crimes, blatant documented war crimes,” said Israeli UN ambassador Gilad Erdan ahead of the closed-door meeting of the 15-member Security Council meeting in New York on Sunday.

“The era of reasoning with these savages is over,” he told reporters. “Now is the time to obliterate Hamas terror infrastructure, to completely erase it, so that such horrors are never committed again.”

Israel pounded Gaza on Sunday, killing hundreds of people in retaliation. Erdan appealed for the international community to fully support Israel and condemn the actions of Hamas.

Home to some 2 million people, the Gaza Strip has been run by Hamas since 2007. Its economy has long been choked by a blockade imposed by Israel with Egypt’s help.

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“Israel keeps saying: the blockade and repeated assaults on Gaza are to destroy Hamas military capabilities and ensure security. … Its blockade and assaults accomplished neither,” Palestinian UN ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters ahead of the Security Council meeting.

“When Israel now tries to justify yet another assault by the same faulty premise, no one should say or do anything to encourage it down this path,” he said.

The council met for about 90 minutes and heard a briefing from UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland.

Diplomats said it was unlikely the Security Council would issue a statement, which are agreed to by consensus. Deputy US ambassador to the UN Robert Wood told reporters that it was not a priority for Washington at the moment.

“What’s important now is the international community show its solidarity with Israel. We have Israel’s back fully,” Wood told reporters after the meeting. “The condemnation of Hamas needs to continue until they end this violent terrorist activity against the Israeli people.”

United Arab Emirates UN ambassador Lana Nusseibeh said the council also discussed the applicability of international humanitarian law and the protection of the civilians.

Israeli police retrieve weapons used by militants in Sderot, Israel. Photo: AP

“The point about proportionate response was also discussed, but clearly, right now, the focus for Israel is its own security needs and the fact that it has hostages being held in the Gaza Strip that should be released,” she told reporters.

The assault by Hamas coincides with US-backed moves to push Saudi Arabia toward normalising ties with Israel in return for a defence deal between Washington and Riyadh.

“We don’t see any reason that should be off the table,” said Erdan. “We still want it to happen. We’ll do everything that we can to live in coexistence with all of our neighbours.”

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