* UN rights forum sets independent international inquiry
* Israel and ally United States reject probe
* Pillay says killing civilians, shelling homes are war crimes
* UN rights chief also condemns Hamas firing of rockets
* Palestinian minister says Israel should be held to account (recasts after vote, adds speeches by Israel, US, Palestinians)
By Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles
GENEVA, July 23 (Reuters) - The United Nations on Wednesday launched an international inquiry into human rights violations and crimes that may have been committed by Israel during its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The U.N. Human Rights Council condemned the Israeli assault which it said had involved "disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks", including aerial bombing of civilian areas, collective punishment, and the killing of more than 650 Palestinians.
At the end of an emergency session, the 47-member forum adopted a resolution presented by Palestinians by a vote of 29 states in favor, 1 against (the United States) with 17 abstentions (including all nine European Union members).
"We came here to try to achieve together with you at least minimum justice for children who are being dismembered, for women whose bodies are lying in the streets, to find some justice for those who are being exterminated," said Ibrahim Khraishi, ambassador of the Palestinian observer mission to the U.N. in Geneva.
Israel and its ally United States rejected the probe, calling it one-sided and counterproductive amid efforts to clinch a ceasefire. Israel has observer status at the talks.
Israel ambassador Eviator Manor, in remarks before the vote, told the forum: "Why does this Council believe that naming and shaming Israel will get it anywhere?
"Throughout the entire escalation of events, Israel has always acted with maximum restraint, fully committed to international law in general and the laws of armed conflict."
Israel had established its own special commission of inquiry "with a scope beyond what is required under international and criminal law," Manor said.
"Hamas is the aggressor. Hamas is the one committing war crimes ... Open your eyes to reality," he said.
POSSIBLE WAR CRIMES
U.N. High Commissioner Navi Pillay said that Israel may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its offensive in Gaza that began on July 8.
She also condemned the firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian militants into Israel, saying such acts also constitute breaches of international law.
Pillay, citing cases Israeli air strikes and shelling hitting houses and hospitals in the crowded coastal enclave, said: "These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.
"Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated," she said.
Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, said that any warning by Israel to Gaza residents ahead of strikes must be "clear, credible and allow sufficient time for people to react".
Gaza fighting continued to rage on Wednesday, displacing thousands more Palestinians in the battered territory as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said indirect truce talks between Israel and Hamas had made some progress.
The Geneva forum convened the special one-day session at the request of the Palestinians, Egypt and Pakistan.
Israel, which accuses the Council of bias, boycotted the Geneva forum for 20 months, resuming cooperation in October.
Its envoy Manor defended Israel's air strikes and ground assault on Gaza as being necessary to defend the Israeli people.
The Council "cannot be supportive of an organization that is no different than al-Qaeda, ISIS (Islamic State), Boko Haram, Hezbollah and other extreme radical Islamist organizations that negate the very essence of human rights," Manor said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki hit back, accusing Israeli forces of perpetrating "heinous crimes" by destroying whole neighborhoods and killing entire families.
The U.N. aid agency OCHA said at least five entire families, with 36 people, had been killed in the past few days.
The United States said that Kerry was seeking to secure an immediate ceasefire based on the Nov. 2012 ceasefire agreement.
U.S. ambassador Keith Harper, calling for a vote, said that the resolution was "destructive" and a "political and biased instrument".
"Once again, this Council fails to address the situation in Israel and in the Palestinian territories with any semblance of balance. There is no mention of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas into Israel or the tunnels used to cause mayhem," he said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles; editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
BEFORE YOU GO
08/08/2014 2:47 PM EDT
White House Concerned By Renewed Fighting
The White House on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks and do what they can to protect civilians after Egyptian-mediated negotiations failed to extend a ceasefire and rocket fire resumed.
"The United States is very concerned about today's developments in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
"We condemn the renewed rocket fire and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict," he said.
08/08/2014 1:42 PM EDT
Official: 5 Palestinians Killed In Gaza
Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since a ceasefire fell apart on Friday, a Palestinian medical official reported to Agence France Presse.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired 35 rockets into Israel on Friday, injuring a soldier and a civilian.
The father of a ten-year old Palestinian boy, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, mourns at the city's Al-Shifa hospital, on August 8, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
08/08/2014 9:23 AM EDT
Palestinian Delegation Says Gaza Talks Will Continue
Palestinian factions will remain in Cairo and press on with Egyptian-mediated talks despite the end of the ceasefire in Gaza, the head of the delegation, Fatah official Azzam Ahmed, said on Friday.
"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brothers in negotiating to reach a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Ahmed said. "I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza."
Ahmed said Palestinian negotiators were due to meet Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been mediating the talks, later in the day. He said Palestinian factions were united in their decision not to extend the 72-hour truce that ended at 0500 GMT and had been clear about their basic demands to end the conflict.
08/08/2014 9:13 AM EDT
Egypt: Agreement Close In Gaza Talks
Egypt called on Friday for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire in Gaza and a return to the negotiating table, saying that only a few outstanding issues remained in negotiations it was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The foreign ministry calls on all sides to rise to their responsibilities ... and to return immediately to the ceasefire commitment and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
08/08/2014 3:58 AM EDT
Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Resume
BREAKING: Israel says it's resumed strikes on Gaza in response to rocket fire, after end of 3-day truce.— The Associated Press (@AP) August 8, 2014
08/08/2014 3:02 AM EDT
Cease-Fire Ends With New Rocket Attacks
A 72-hour cease-fire expired at 8 a.m. today, and not long after, Gaza militants began firing rockets at Israel, The Associated Press reported.
The Israeli military said at least 10 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce ended. Prior to the attacks, a senior official for Hamas said the militant groups would not extend the cease-fire.
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08/06/2014 2:46 PM EDT
Official: Israel Agrees To Extend Ceasefire
Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.
Hamas had no immediate comment.
08/06/2014 2:12 PM EDT
IDF: Rocket Sirens Were False Alarm
IDF confirms rocket sirens in southern Israel were false alarm http://t.co/QN677jtlXE— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) August 6, 2014
08/06/2014 1:18 PM EDT
Report: Rocket Sirens Sound At Gaza Border
ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams reports that the IDF have confirmed the rocket sirens are sounding, but are checking to see if it is a false alarm.
08/05/2014 4:20 PM EDT
Israel Arrests Kidnapping Suspect
Reuters reports that Israel has arrested one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.
Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.
Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Kawasme's arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.
The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.
The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organize the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.
Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.
Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.