As civilian casualties mount in Gaza, the foreign minister asks both sides to stand down
By Ray Weaver
Israeli aircraft struck crowded areas in the Gaza Strip today, driving up the Palestinian death toll to 109 in a new tactic in Israel's six-day-old offensive meant to stop Hamas rocket fire on Israel.
Israel’s escalation of its bombing attacks has led to a sharp rise in civilian casualties, with 24 civilians killed in less than two days doubling the total number of civilians killed in the conflict.
Although he was well aware his words could fall on deaf ears, the foreign minister, Villy Søvndal (Socialistisk Folkeparti), added his voice to those calling on both sides for a cease fire.
“It may seem right now that it is impossible to get the two states to co-operate, but I think that the events of recent days underline the need for a political solution to the conflict,” Søvndal told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.
The foreign minister is in Brussels for meetings with his counterparts from other EU countries. Although the Gaza conflict is on the agenda, Søvndal admitted that there is not much that the EU can do.
“All we can do is ask that they end hostilities and return to the negotiating table,” he said.
Søvndal stressed that the escalating civilian casualties make it even more necessary to find a quick solution.
He said that he would support delaying a vote on upgrading the Palestinians’ UN status to allow more time for negotiations between the two sides.
Denmark supports the Palestinian authority's desire to be upgraded from ‘observer’ to the more influential ‘non-member observer’ status in the UN, but Søvndal said it would be ‘just fine’ if his EU colleagues decided to delay a vote on whether or not to support the bid.
During the election campaign last year, Søvndal created a bit of an uproar when he expressed a desire to see the Palestinian territories gain full UN statehood, rather than just an upgrade.
“Denmark is doing everything it can to help upgrade Palestine at the UN - but we're not talking about full recognition, only the upgrade,” said Søvndal
As of this afternoon, the Israeli offensive that began last Wednesday has killed 109 Palestinians, including over 50 civilians, and wounded some 720 people, according to a Gaza heath official. Among the wounded were 225 children.
On the Israeli side, three civilians have died from Palestinian rocket fire and 70 have been wounded. An Israeli rocket defence system has intercepted hundreds of rockets bound for populated areas.
Failure to end the fighting threatens to touch off an Israeli ground invasion. Thousands of soldiers, tanks and armoured vehicles have already been mobilised and sent to Gaza's border.
Israel and Hamas have put forth widely divergent conditions for a truce.