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Britain alarmed over civilian toll in Gaza: Hammond

AFP , Thursday 24 Jul 2014
A Palestinian looks at a damaged residential building which witnesses said was targeted by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City July 24, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
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Britain is "gravely concerned" by the high number of civilian casualties resulting from Israel's military operation in Gaza, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Thursday.

Speaking on his first official visit to the region since taking over as Britain's top diplomat, Hammond said London would do everything it could to help broker a quick end to the hostilities which have so far claimed more than 730 lives in Gaza and 35 in Israel.

At a news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hammond expressed Britain's support for Israel's right to self-defence, acknowledging that the current fighting was caused by Hamas firing rockets "indiscriminately" at Israeli towns and cities.

"But we are gravely concerned by the ongoing heavy level of civilian causalities," he said as another 30 Palestinians were killed in ongoing fighting in Gaza, among them at least six children.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights published figures on Wednesday showing more than 80 percent of the casualties were civilians, and a quarter of them children.

Netanyahu said Israel was doing everything it could to minimise casualties, pinning the blame on Hamas for using civilians as "human shields".

"We seek as best as we can to target (our attackers) but all the civilian deaths that are there -- and we regret each one of them -- are the responsibility of Hamas," he said, describing its use of civilians as "grotesque (and) inhuman."

But he said a decision by the UN's Human Rights Council to probe Israel's actions in Gaza while ignoring Palestinian rocket fire on Israel, was "equally grotesque," vowing that it would not stop Israel from acting to defend itself.

Netanyahu also expressed gratitude for the fact that British Airways had continued flying to Tel Aviv over the past two days despite many global airlines suspending flights after a rocket from Gaza struck close the runway of Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.

The suspension of flights was hailed by Hamas as a "great victory" but early on Thursday, US airlines lifted the ban, with European carriers expected to follow suit later in the day.

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