Israel came under fire at emergency United Nations talks—expected to run through Friday—for flouting international law with its deadly military assault on Gaza as a U.N. chief accused Israel of using white-phosphorus shells to strike a U.N. warehouse.
As Palestinian officials put the cost of damage inflicted on Gaza at $1.4 billion an emergency U.N. meet declared that: "Gaza is ablaze. It has been turned into a burning hell," Nicaragua's Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, the president of the 192-member U.N. General Assembly said.
"The violations of international law inherent in the Gaza assault have been well documented: collective punishment; disproportionate military force; attacks on civilian targets, including homes, mosques, universities, schools," he said.
D'Escoto deplored the fact that the Israeli assault was continuing despite last week's ceasefire call issued by the 15-member Security Council.
"It seems to me ironic that Israel, a state that more than any other owes its very existence to a (1948) General Assembly resolution, should be so disdainful of United Nations resolutions," D'Escoto noted.
"(Israeli) Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert's recent statement disavowing the authority of Resolution 1860 clearly places Israel as a state in contempt of international law and the United Nations," he added.
Security Council outrage
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, currently on a visit to Israel, conveyed "his strong protest and outrage" and demanded an explanation after Israeli shells smashed into a U.N. compound in Gaza Thursday, setting fire to warehouses holding badly-needed aid.
Other Israeli strikes set a hospital wing on fire and wounded two cameramen in a building housing international and Arab media outlets.
Security Council ambassadors expressed "grave concern" over the latest Israeli strikes on Gaza and speaker after speaker in Thursday's assembly debate blasted the latest Israeli attacks.
At the request of several assembly members, D'Escoto circulated a non-binding draft resolution that demands full respect for Resolution 1860 and calls on the Security Council to ensure "full and urgent compliance with the resolution."
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said the assembly was holding the session in violation of its own rules, arguing that under the U.N. Charter, the assembly cannot inject itself into an issue already being tackled by the powerful Security Council.
She dismissed the session as a "cynical, hateful and politicized (attempt) to de-legitimize Israel's fundamental right to defend its citizens."
Meanwhile, a senior U.N. official made the first public accusation against Israel and echoed Human Rights Watch allegations, made last week, that Israel was using white phosphorus in its raids on Gaza.
"The main warehouse was badly damaged by what appeared to be white-phosphorus shells," U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes told reporters at a news briefing in New York.
"Those on the ground don't have any doubt that's what they were. If you were looking for confirmation, that looks like it to me," he said.
"If they hit people, they cause appalling burns, and if they hit buildings they can set them on fire, which is why we are saying they should not be used in these circumstances, whether or not they are banned," Holmes said.
Israel has refused comment on the munitions it is using in Gaza, but the Israeli army confirmed in 2006 that it had used phosphorus shells during its war on Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Western officials say white phosphorus, which can be used an incendiary weapon as well as making smoke screens or marking targets, is not specifically banned, but a 1983 international convention prohibits the use of incendiary weapons against civilians.
Gaza damage at $1.4 bn
In related news, Palestinian officials said the destruction inflicted on the Gaza Strip has cost the Palestinian economy at least $1.4 billion.
The Palestinian Statistics Bureau said some 26,000 Gazans unable to live in their homes were being housed in emergency temporary shelters.
The bureau estimated that some 20,000 residential buildings had been damaged in Israeli air, sea and ground attacks and that some 4,000 were totally destroyed.
Surveyors reporting to the bureau said public buildings were also destroyed including 18 schools and university buildings, roads, bridges, power lines and water and sewage pipes.
The bureau put the cost of reconstruction at close to $1 billion, with daily losses of revenues amounting to an additional $420,000. With fighting continuing, it said the final cost could be much higher.
The Palestinian death toll from the almost three-week-old assault was at least 1,105, with some 5,100 wounded, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.
On the Israeli side 10 soldiers and three civilians have been killed by Hamas rocket fire or street clashes.