Toll in Israel’s Gaza offensive crosses 800

January 10th, 2009 - 5:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv/Gaza, Jan 10 (DPA) Israel continued its offensive in the Gaza Strip Saturday, pounding over 40 targets overnight, a military spokesman said.The airstrikes, which came after 70 such attacks Friday, largely targeted smuggling tunnels and weapon manufacturing shops.

Israeli soldiers on the ground said they killed 15 armed men, the spokesman added.

Palestinian medical sources in the Gaza Strip have said the toll has surpassed 800, with over 3,300 people injured. This was the 15th day of fighting.

Five Israeli soldiers were lightly injured in overnight fighting. Troops remain in the Gaza Strip, but for the most part have not entered the most crowded urban areas.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Israel was not planning to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported.

Palestinian militants fired one mortar and three homemade rockets at southern Israel since midnight.

Nine Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead Dec 27, in what was said to be a campaign to curtail Palestinian rocket fire.

The Israeli offensive continued after the security cabinet decided Friday to carry on, despite a United Nations’ Security Council resolution which called for an immediate ceasefire.

Meanwhile, several senior Hamas members were in Cairo to discuss a possible ceasefire proposal. At least two of them left the Gaza Strip through the Rafah Crossing.

Israel, for its part, was sending Amos Gilad, a senior defence figure, to Cairo next week to also discuss the proposal. He had been in Egypt earlier this week, but returned without any concrete results.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had criticised Israel for not accepting the council’s resolution and going towards a ceasefire, but officials in Jerusalem responded that as the UN could not stop Palestinian rocket fire, the offensive would go on.

“Israel has a right to protect its citizens,” a statement from the cabinet said Friday, announcing a continuation of the Israeli military action, adding that it would “continue to change the security situation in the south”, parlance for attacking militant targets and sources of rocket fire and conducting activities to curtail arms smuggling.

Caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel “has never agreed that any outside body would determine its right to defend the security of its citizens”.

Israel also maintains an option, analysts said, to go to “phase three”, which would mean sending more ground troops deeper into populated areas.

The military said there would be a three-hour “humanitarian lull” Saturday, to allow Palestinians to stock up on food and let medics and patients move freely, though the crossings to the enclave would remain closed.

Three such lulls have taken place so far since Wednesday, though Friday’s lull was marred with violence.

The UN aid agencies are also expected to resume activities “as soon as possible” after they reached an understanding with the Israeli security forces. Four staff of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency for Palestinian refugees, have been killed in the fighting.

The UN said it had received security assurances from the Israelis and they would closely monitor their commitment to the safety of the aid workers.

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