Palestinians plead for UN action to stop Gaza violence

The Palestinian envoy to the United Nations held up photographs of slain children and read out the names of the dead on Tuesday as he pleaded for action from the Security Council.

"On behalf of the Palestinian people, we ask: What is the international community doing to stop this bloodletting, to stop Israel's atrocities?" Riyad Mansour said at a debate on the Gaza crisis.

Wearing a black ribbon, he held up photographs of families overcome with grief and of children's corpses, and read out the names of young victims who lost their lives. "Umama Al-Hayyeh, age 9; Dima Isleem, age 2; Mohamad Ayyad, age 2; Rahaf Abu Jumaa, age 4...".

The Security Council opened debate on the Gaza crisis as Israel kept up its barrage of shells and air strikes and Hamas militants hit back with rockets, pushing the Palestinian death toll to more than 600 in a conflict now in its third week.

Israel's deputy envoy asserted that his country was acting in self-defence against Hamas, which it accused of using Palestinian casualties as "fuel for a propaganda machine."

"This is not a war we chose. It was our last resort," said David Roet, who added that Israel had accepted ceasefire offers, unlike Hamas which has rejected a truce.

In Ramallah for talks with Palestinian leaders, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Council by videolink that his efforts to secure a ceasefire had reached a "highly sensitive moment" and voiced hope for results "in the very near future."

During an emergency session on Sunday, the UN Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire in a statement that also demanded that civilians be protected.

But the 15-member Council has not taken the stronger step of adopting a formal resolution, despite efforts by Jordan and other Arab countries to win support for such a measure.

World leaders have expressed alarm over the rising death toll, with US Secretary of State John Kerry holding talks in Cairo to shore up Egypt's efforts to broker a truce.

More than 100,000 Palestinians have fled their homes and are sheltering in schools run by the UN relief agency UNRWA.