Palestinian death toll in Gaza tops 900 (Zaman)



Palestinian death toll in Gaza tops 900

Palestinian children are reflected in a
puddle of blood mixed with water after
an israeli air strike in Gaza January 12, 2009

Israeli troops fought fierce gun battles with Hamas fighters on Monday, keeping military pressure on the group while avoiding all-out urban warfare that would complicate ongoing diplomatic efforts to end the Gaza war

Medical officials said the Palestinian death toll in the offensive Israel began 17 days ago had risen past 900 and included at least 380 civilians. Israel says 13 Israelis - only three civilians hit by rockets and 10 soldiers -- have died.

An Israeli military spokesman said army reservists had been thrown into the campaign that Israel launched with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket attacks from the Hamas-ruled territory to its south. But Israeli forces were still holding back from a threatened third stage of their deadliest assault on Palestinians in decades -- a push into the city of Gaza and other urban areas to add more punch to the brutal air campaign and ground offensive.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a candidate for prime minister in a Feb. 10 election, said the surprise bombing of the Gaza Strip at the start of operations on Dec. 27 and an armored thrust a week later had “restored Israel’s deterrence.”

Morning radio programs in Israel, however, continued to be interrupted by announcements of “Color Red” alerts, heralding rocket attacks on towns where residents have only seconds to find shelter before salvoes hit. Ten rockets landed in the first half of the day, the army said. No one was hurt.

Livni gave no indication in an interview with Army Radio when Israeli assaults might end.

Political sources said coalitions partners Livni, chairman of the ruling Kadima Party, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, head of center-left Labor, wanted to halt the operation in the Hamas-ruled territory as soon as possible.

But the sources said outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who resigned as Kadima chief in September, disagreed and planned to present the issue in a cabinet forum where he has support.

In violence on Monday, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian fighters and four civilians, medical workers said.

Israeli soldiers battled Hamas east and north of the city of Gaza in what residents called ferocious fighting.The Israeli military said its aircraft carried out more than 10 attacks overnight, fewer than on many previous days.

Truce negotiations

The Palestinian death toll since Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” began stood at 905, Gaza medical officials said. About 3,600 Palestinians have been wounded.

The health minister in the Hamas-run government in Gaza, Bassem Naeem, told reporters that 42 percent of those killed -- or about 380 -- were women and children. Israel, which claims it has killed “hundreds” of fighters, has questioned civilian casualty figures from Gaza but has not offered its own estimate.

Reuters journalists covering sites of attacks and hospital facilities have seen dozens of bodies of women and children.

Egypt’s state news agency MENA said more talks in Cairo with a Hamas delegation on an Egyptian plan for a cease-fire were planned for Monday after “positive” discussions a day earlier.

Hamas official Osama Hamdan said some delegates had returned to Damascus for consultations with the group’s leadership.

Israel, which rejected a UN cease-fire resolution last week as unworkable, wants a halt to rocket attacks and measures to stop Hamas from rearming via the tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, in an area known as the Philadelphi corridor.

Western and Israeli officials said diplomats were discussing an internationally-assisted technical monitoring system to help Egypt stop weapons smuggling and intercept rocket shipments.

Egypt, concerned for its sovereignty, opposes stationing an international force on its side of the frontier.

Hamdan said Hamas was working on a final position on the Egyptian proposal: “The movement has essential concerns over some aspects of this initiative and there are issues the movement cannot accept,” he told Lebanon’s al-Manar television.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has said the group would not consider a cease-fire until Israel ended its air, sea and ground assault and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli warplanes have repeatedly bombed the Philadelphi corridor along Gaza’s 14-kilomater (nine-mile) border with Egypt, sometimes using “bunker buster” munitions that explode underground and cause shockwaves to try to collapse the tunnels.

Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, described a ground operation to retake the corridor and parts of the town of Rafah as one of Israel’s leading “third phase” options if talks over a cease-fire founder.

A ground assault would allow Israel to use bulldozers and sonar equipment to root out tunnels that have yet to be destroyed with air power alone. Local Palestinian tunnel operators estimated that several hundred of the secret passages have been disabled but that many hundreds of others remained intact. İstanbul/Gaza Today’s Zaman with wires

13 January 2009, Tuesday

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