Tuesday, January 6, 2009



January 5 2009
GAZA, Monday

Combat between Israeli troops and Hamas militants raged today as Israel pressed home its a ground assault in Gaza in the face of French-led diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire.

The offensive will go on until communities in Israel were safe from Hamas rocket strikes, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said.

But Hamas said militants were justified in attacking Israeli schools and synagogues in response to the Israeli onslaught, in which about 530 Palestinians have been killed in 10 days.

Earlier, Israel rebuffed European proposals for international observers in the Gaza Strip after any ceasefire, pushing instead for teams that will help search out and seal off tunnels that could allow Hamas to rearm.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a leading candidate to become Israel’s next prime minister in a February 10 election, said she saw no reason for an observation and monitoring force, one of several proposals made by European powers in their bid for a truce to end Israel’s 10-day-old military offensive in Gaza.

“I don’t see how this can help,” Ms Livni told reporters during a press conference with visiting European leaders.

Israel wants any international mission on the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt to be focused instead on preventing Hamas from re-establishing a network of underground tunnels that could be used to smuggle in long-range rockets and other weapons, Israeli officials involved in the deliberations said.

The death toll in besieged Gaza mounted today. Victims included three children and their mother when a tank shell hit their home in Gaza city, Palestinian medics said.

Seven members of another family were killed in an explosion at the Beach refugee camp.

The Israeli army said “many dozens” of Islamist fighters had been killed since ground troops went in on Saturday in a stated attempt to end rocket fire by Hamas into southern Israel.

A very heavy blow

“Hamas has so far sustained a very heavy blow from us, but we have yet to achieve our objective and therefore the operation continues,” Mr Barak said in broadcast remarks.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to arrive in the region later today in a diplomatic push for a truce, which Israel has so far resisted.

A Hamas official said a delegation from the Islamist group would head for talks in Egypt, which has also opened contacts to achieve a ceasefire. But senior Hamas political leader Mahmoud Zahar urged Hamas forces to fight on “in the name of God”.

“They legalised for us knocking down their synagogues when they hit our mosques, they legalised for us knocking down their schools when they hit our schools,” he said in a speech.

Hamas “must lay the foundation for a tomorrow without Zionists,” he said.

Blasts rocked Gaza overnight after Israeli soldiers moved into a northern zone. Israeli forces told residents to leave their homes to avoid being hurt. Dozens of families sought refuge in United Nations run schools.