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By Margaret Besheer
United Nations
15 January 2009

Palestinian firefighters try to put out a fire at the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City, after it was hit by Israeli shells, 15 Jan 2009
Palestinian firefighters try to put out a fire at the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City, after it was hit by Israeli shells, 15 Jan 2009
The U.N. General Assembly sharply criticized Israel's incursion in the Gaza Strip during an emergency session Thursday. Their meeting began just hours after Israeli said its shells accidentally struck the United Nations' main compound in Gaza, destroying tons of medicine and food aid and injuring at least three people.

Israel's delegation tried to have the special session canceled, saying that it was illegal under the rules that govern the U.N. body. But the General Assembly's legal advisor disagreed and the meeting was allowed to continue.

General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann opened the meeting with a lengthy statement, most of it an indictment of Israel.

"It seems to me ironic that Israel, a state that, more than any other, owes its very existence to a General Assembly resolution, should be so disdainful of United Nations resolutions," he said. "[Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert's recent statement disavowing the authority of Security Council resolution 1860 clearly places Israel as a state in contempt of international law and the United Nations."

That resolution, passed one week ago, calls for an "immediate and durable cease-fire" in Gaza. So far, both Israel and Hamas have rejected it.

Thursday's special session was called at the request of the 118-member states that make up the non-aligned movement. Among the more than 40 speakers who had requested to address the session there were few friends of Israel.

Member states condemned Israel for its military incursion, the high number of Palestinian civilian casualties, strikes on hospitals and U.N. installations and its failure to heed the Security Council's call for an cease-fire. They also urged Israel to lift its blockade on the occupied territory and withdraw its troops.

The General Assembly is considering whether to adopt a resolution of its own on the situation. But unlike Security Council resolutions, those of the General Assembly are non-binding.

The special session came just hours after Israeli shells damaged the main United Nations compound in Gaza which was sheltering 700 Palestinians. The resulting fire destroyed a warehouse full of medicine and food aid and injured three people.

Israel has called the strike a "grave mistake" and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon who was in Israel today pressing for an end to the violence said it was an "outrage" and demanded a full explanation from Israeli authorities. Last week, Israeli fire struck a U.N.-run school in Gaza, killing more than 40 people taking shelter there.

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