The Israeli bombing of two UN-run schools filled with children taking shelter from the continuing bloodshed in Gaza has provoked protests and increasingly desperate appeals for a halt to the killing.

Some 765 Palestinian lives have been lost in the conflict so far, including 257 Palestinian children, according to UN figures released yesterday [Thursday]. Four Israeli civilians and nine Israeli soldiers have also died in the profoundly one-sided conflict.

Claims by the Israeli government that two schools targeted by Israeli artillery this week were being used as Palestinian rocket launching sites were rubbished by UN officials, some of whom narrowly escaped the attacks.

Grim reports of other atrocities are emerging from the besieged Palestinian-ruled coastal area, despite an Israeli blockade against media access.

In one such incident, Israeli soldiers were said to have evacuated more than 100 Palestinians into a house in Zeitun, south of Gaza city, which they shelled the next day, killing about 30 people.

The 26-County Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams strongly condemned Israel’s attacks. Other Irish politicians have described the shelling in the besieged Palestinian-ruled coastal area as “ethnic cleansing” and “liquidation”.

Mr Martin said Israel’s continuation of its military assault on the territory cannot be justified and must be brought to an immediate end.

The Fianna Fail Minister said he was “appalled” by the “indiscriminate attacks by Israeli air forces which have resulted in so many civilian fatalities, including of children, who were simply sheltering from the conflict taking place around them”.

“The death and suffering, as well as the humanitarian deprivation, now being inflicted on the people of Gaza as a result of the continuation of the Israeli Operation ‘Cast Lead’ cannot be justified in any way and must now be brought to an immediate end.”

Mr Martin called for the international community to intensify its efforts to bring an end to the “carnage” taking place.

“I again would like to make the strongest appeal for an immediate cessation of all violence in and from Gaza and for the putting in place of an effective and sustainable ceasefire and the facilitation of urgent humanitarian access,” he said, adding that Ireland would continue to work closely with EU and international partners to push for a swift resolution to the crisis.

He rejected complaints by Israeli ambassador to Ireland Zion Evrony that Dublin’s stance on the crisis in Gaza is too critical of Israel.

However, he refused to concede to public calls to expel the Israeli ambassador as a protest against the atrocities, which have decimated the population of Gaza.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams condemned the rising death toll, which he said was “indefensible and unjustifiable”.

“The International community cannot allow the situation in Gaza to deteriorate any further.

“The International community, including the Irish Government, the EU and the USA, has to intensify its efforts to resolve the situation in Gaza.”

The Vice President of Republican Sinn Féin Des Dalton described the Israeli attacks on Gaza as a process of “ethnic cleansing”.

“The Irish people are all too familiar with the illegal occupation and enforced partition of our country by a foreign power,” he said.

“Irish Republicans once again support the right of the Palestinian people to national freedom and sovereignty in a viable Palestinian state.”

Thousands have been gathering in Dublin and across Ireland to protest against Israeli attacks in Gaza. A torchlight procession took place from Clonard Monastery in West Belfast to the Belfast City Hall on Tuesday night.

Speaking afterwards the Belfast City Mayor, Sinn Féin’s Tom Hartley said: “The world can not stand idle and let this crisis continue. We need to see an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the free movement of humanitarian aid.

“I would urge all parties and groups in the region to accept inclusive dialogue and political negotiation as the most effective pathway to peace and for all acts of military aggression to end.”

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