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Belgium demands independent probe into Gaza casualties

BRUSSELS – Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy has demanded an independent inquiry into the rising casualties in Gaza, saying the conduct of the conflict contravened international humanitarian law.

"The Belgian government firmly condemns the continued rise in violence," he said in a statement.

"Complaints by the international Red Cross about a lack of treatment for the wounded show that the situation on the ground contravenes international humanitarian law and warrants an immediate independent inquiry," he said.

Almost 800 people, many of them children, have been killed since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on December 27 in response to rocket attacks on its civilians by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

"Now more than ever, the government calls for an immediate ceasefire," Van Rompuy said.

"The continuing spiral of violence is contrary to the interests of all parties and cannot be reconciled with the basic principles of international law."

Earlier Friday, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay called for an independent investigation into the violence and warned that some reported violations may constitute war crimes.

She told a special session of the UN Human Rights Council that Israel and Palestinian militants had an obligation under international law to care for the wounded, and protect ambulances, hospitals and health workers.

The former South African judge also slammed rocket attacks by Palestinian militants from Gaza on Israel as unacceptable.

She said schools, hospitals, power and water supplies in Gaza had been driven to breaking point and must not be jeopardised by other attacks, while civilians must be spared under international humanitarian law.

The main UN relief agency in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA, which helps Palestinian refugees, suspended deliveries of supplies and food to Gaza on Thursday after one of its convoys was hit by Israeli shellfire, killing a truck driver.

As casualties have mounted, Belgium has also decided to send aircraft to the Middle East this weekend to help evacuate wounded children from Gaza.