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UN to investigate alleged Gaza war crimes as Israel seeks US military aid

US votes against UN inquiry into allegations of Israeli war crimes, as Israel requests $225 m in funding for Iron Dome interception system
Palestinians run from the wreckage of al-Shama'a Mosque, destroyed in a strike on 23 July (AA)

Air and ground strikes continued throughout the day on Wednesday, and by 22:00 local time in Gaza, 73 Palestinians had been killed and 526 injured.

New deaths on Wednesday have brought the total number of Palestinian casualties to at least 695, with Gaza’s Health Ministry announcing that 166 of these were children.

Israel announced on Wednesday that 35 people, either Israeli nationals or those living in Israel, have now been killed. Of these, 32 were soldiers and three civilians.

Strikes on Shejaiya, the scene of Sunday night’s massacre that killed almost 90 Palestinians, continued throughout the day on Wednesday, with reports of huge explosions in the east of the area after nightfall.

The International Committee of the Red Cross pulled four brothers from the rubble in Shejaiya on Wednesday - they had been trapped for four days.

The aid organisation came under pressure on Wednesday, with Gazans demanding that they do more to protect civilians.

A BBC cameraman shot footage in Shejaiya of local residents attacking a van belonging to the ICRC.

A resident interviewed directly after the incident said, “I can’t understand how the Red Cross behaves. They should protect us.”

Many worry that there are still bodies trapped in the rubble in Shejaiya.

Local residents living near Khan Younis complained that the Red Cross had put them in the firing line.

They told news site Arabi21 that Red Cross teams had asked them to leave their homes to seek medical treatment near the entrance to their town, Khaza’a.

However, they reported that on arrival they were faced with an Israeli tank, which shelled on them, causing one death and several injuries.

UN to investigate possible war crimes

The United Nations Human Rights Council is to launch an inquiry, investigating possible Israeli war crimes committed during its ongoing bombardment of the Gaza Strip, as the death toll in Palestine edges towards 700.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the decision, calling it a “travesty that should be condemned by decent people everywhere.”

He called instead for the UN to investigate allegations that Hamas has placed missile batteries in the midst of civilian infrastructure like playgrounds, homes and mosques.

The US was the only state to vote down a proposal to form an inquiry into alleged war crimes, according to a photograph of the voting board after the emergency session in Geneva on Wednesday. 29 states voted in favour of creating the commission, while 17 abstained, among them France, Germany and Britain.

Earlier in the day, it emerged that Israel had requested an urgent package of $225 m in military aid from the US, reported Ha’aretz.

US Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday that Israel is in urgent need of unspecified “parts” for its Iron Dome missile interception system.

Hagel “personally endorsed” the Israeli request for the increased funding, reports New York Daily News, which would allow the shield to continue running during an apparent desperate shortage of parts.

At the outset of Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli army claimed that the Iron Dome shield was successful in intercepting around 90 percent of rockets fired towards land claimed by Israel.

However, on Monday it emerged that the intervention system may be much less effective.

Several military scientists and experts say that the shield is unable to detonate many rockets fired from the Gaza Strip while they are in the air, which suggests that the Iron Dome is not in fact an effective tool in saving Israeli lives, as US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel claimed on Tuesday.

Instead, experts suggest that the low firepower of rockets and Israel’s network of bomb shelters is to be credited for the low civilian death toll in the conflict so far.

The decision of the UN Human Rights Council to form an inquiry into alleged Israeli war crimes came after the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a damning statement on recent events in Gaza.

Pillay raised the possibility that Israel is committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip, alluding to the fact that “it is innocent civilians in Gaza who are suffering the most.”

She called for the blockade on Gaza to be lifted “once and for all.”

An end to the siege, which began in 2007, has also been one of Hamas’s key demands in ceasefire negotiations so far.