Civilian death toll in Gaza rises during Israel invasion

Israeli tanks and troops virtually cut Gaza in half in a night-time advance on Saturday, and on Sunday were ringing Gaza City itself, Palestinian witnesses said.

Civilian death toll in Gaza rises during Israel invasion

Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants battled in Gaza on Sunday after Israeli troops and tanks invaded the coastal enclave in the most serious one in decades.

More than 30 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed as Israeli shells slammed into houses and Gaza's main shopping district, witnesses and Palestinian medical sources said. Thirty Israeli soldiers have been wounded, Israel said.

The Saturday night invasion of Gaza followed a week of Israeli bombardments from land, sea and air killing hundreds of Palestinians.

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in the nine days of assaaults and Israeli officials said the offensive could last many days.

Territory cut in half

Israeli tanks and troops virtually cut Gaza in half in a night-time advance on Saturday, and on Sunday were ringing Gaza City itself, Palestinian witnesses said.

Israeli firepower killed 32 Palestinians, five of them fighters and the rest civilians, as fighting intensified in the territory crammed with 1.5 million people, hospital staff said.

Tank shells killed at least five civilians and wounded 40 when they slammed into Gaza City's main shopping area.

A foreign Red Crescent doctor in a northern Gaza hospital described the situation as a nightmare.

"Civilians are being killed...shells are severing people's legs, shrapnel is going into people's bodies and into people's homes, a lot of people are being cut down. Everyone is terrified," she said.

Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters clashed east of the Hamas stronghold of Zeitoun, witnesses said.

"I would say that most of the resistances that we faced were from mortar shells and other things but not from serious Hamas fighters face-to-face," a senior Israeli officer told reporters.

Heavy civilian casualties are likely to increase international pressure on Israel to halt its biggest assault in the Gaza Strip in four decades.

But the invasion also may cost to Israeli leaders before a Feb. 10 national election, especially if its forces take heavy casualties in street fighting.

A spokesman for Hamas's armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said Israeli troops faced death or capture.

"The Zionist enemy must know his battle in Gaza is a losing one," spokesman Abu Ubaida said.

Hamas said it had captured two Israeli soldiers but the Israeli army denied that.

The plight of Palestinian civilians was growing more desperate. People have taken shelter in their homes for days and humanitarian agencies warned that water, food and medical supplies were running short.

"Condemnations"

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "condemned" the Israeli attack as a vicious aggression.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council met but diplomats said Washington's rejection to back a Libyan-drafted demand for an immediate truce had killed the initiative.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, envoy for powers sponsoring Middle East peace talks, was to meet Barak on Sunday.

France, whose President Nicolas Sarkozy is due in Jerusalem on Monday, condemned the Israeli invasion and Hamas rocket fire.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate end to the ground operation. In a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Olmert, Ban conveyed his "extreme concerns and disappointment," a U.N. statement said.

Egypt also called for an end to Israel's "savage aggression" against Gaza.

Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 and formally ended its military invasion in 2005 after a series of Palestinian uprisings, but it still controls the borders.


Agencies

Last Mod: 04 Ocak 2009, 18:12
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