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Australia berates Israel over ‘indefensible’ attacks near UN schools in Gaza

Palestinians collect the remains of bodies at a United Nation-run school sheltering Palestinians displaced by an Israeli ground offensive, that witnesses said was hit by Israeli shelling, in Jebalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip July 30, 2014.

MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

Australia's government on Tuesday made its strongest criticism yet of its staunch ally Israel over the monthlong war in Gaza, with the foreign minister calling the shelling near United Nations schools "indefensible."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop welcomed a 72-hour cease-fire that began Tuesday, and urged Israel to take all necessary steps to prevent civilian casualties.

"I am deeply troubled by the suffering being endured by the Palestinian population in Gaza, where many hundreds of innocent people have been killed, including women and children," Bishop said in a statement. "There have been a number of shocking incidents, including the indefensible shelling of three UN schools, all of which were sheltering civilians."

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Australia supports a full investigation into the incidents, Bishop said, adding that both Israel and Hamas must respect international humanitarian law.

Israel and Hamas on Monday accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal meant to halt a bruising war that has claimed nearly 2,000 lives, raising hopes that the bloodiest round of fighting between the bitter enemies could finally be coming to an end.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's conservative government is a staunch ally of Israel, and angered Arab and Islamic countries in June by changing its description of East Jerusalem from "occupied" to "disputed."

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