DEATH TOLL RISES TO 850 Israel vows to escalate war in Gaza

By Sakher Abu El Oun
Agence France-Presse
First Posted 04:19:00 01/11/2009

GAZA CITY – Israel vowed to escalate its war in Gaza on Saturday as it pounded the impoverished territory with air strikes and troops battled Hamas fighters into a third week and the death toll rose past 850.

Israeli planes sent a cloud of white leaflets fluttering across the Gaza City skyline warning residents it would soon step up its war on Hamas and other militant groups despite mounting international calls for a ceasefire.

Ground troops clashed with militants while the airforce said it carried out 60 air strikes targeting arms manufacturing sites, weapons depots and smuggling tunnels, the army said.

The Israeli military said it had killed Amir Mansi, a senior Hamas rocket launcher responsible for many of the long-range rockets fired in recent days. Hamas refused to say where he ranked in the movement’s armed wing.

In a separate incident, eight members of the same Palestinian family, including a 12-year-old, were killed during the shelling of the northern town of Jabaliya.

“We were at home when the bombing started,” one of the attack’s survivors Umm Mohammed told Agence France-Press (AFP) inside a nearby hospital.

“We fled towards another house and the tanks started firing. Several of us were hit.”

An Israeli army spokesman denied the incident took place, and Israel has said from the start of the conflict that it is not targeting civilians.

Israeli forces killed at least 28 people on Saturday including 17 in heavy fighting in the north and around Gaza City, according to Dr Muawiya Hassanein, head of Gaza emergency services.

Since the Israeli offensive began on December 27, at least 854 people have been killed, including 270 children, 93 women, and 12 paramedics, he said.

Another 3,490 people have been wounded, overwhelming Gaza’s beleaguered medical facilities.

Hamas and other armed groups meanwhile fired at least 13 rockets into Israel, wounding four people, according to the Israeli army.

The conflict has sparked worldwide pro-Palestinian demonstrations, including rallies in Europe that drew tens of thousands of war protesters.

In London thousands of protestors clashed with police around the Israeli embassy, while in Paris protesters shattered windows and lit scooters on fire after a rally attended by more than 30,000 people.

Egypt has been spearheading US-backed efforts to end the fighting, with President Hosni Mubarak meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Saturday.

A Hamas delegation was also due to hold talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Abbas pressed Hamas to accept the Egyptian plan “without hesitation,” warning that “whoever does not accept (the plan) will be responsible for the continuing aggression and for bloodshed.”

Mubarak’s initiative calls for an immediate truce for a specified period, opening Gaza’s border crossings, preventing arms smuggling and a call for Palestinians to resume reconciliation talks.

Israeli officials said Egypt has proposed that Western-backed forces loyal to Abbas — which were violently driven out of Gaza when Hamas seized power in 2007 — patrol the Gaza-Egypt border to help prevent arms smuggling.

But Hamas’s Syria-based politburo said in a joint statement with other armed factions that it would reject “any security arrangements that undermine the resistance” against Israel, including international forces or observers.

Hamas has also rejected a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate truce in a territory, already reeling from an 18-month Israeli blockade enacted when the Islamist movement seized power.

“UN Security Council Resolution 1860 does not meet the demands and interests of the Palestinian people, and harms the resistance,” said the joint statement issued in Damascus.

Israel has also ignored the UN resolution and on Friday vowed to press ahead with its offensive.

The flyers which rained down on Gaza warned that the military “will soon intensify its operations” throughout the Gaza Strip.

“For your security and that of your families, you are asked not to approach terrorists, weapons depots and arms,” added the flyers, printed in Arabic.

Israel launched the war aiming to end rocket fire against southern towns and the smuggling of weapons into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed in combat or in rocket attacks since the operation began, as Palestinian militants have fired more than 600 rockets, some of them penetrating deeper than ever inside Israel.(PDI)

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