Hamas using Gazans as human shield: Israeli diplomat

January 13th, 2009 - 10:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Jan 13 (RIA Novosti) Hamas is holding civilians hostage and using them as human shields during Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, Israel’s ambassador to Russia said Tuesday. “We regard Gaza’s civilian population as victims of this conflict: Hamas is effectively using them as hostages. Hamas infrastructure and ammunition depots are located in residential areas,” Anna Azari told a news conference in Moscow.

The diplomat also denied media reports that Israel has been using banned weapons in Gaza, in particular, white phosphorous weapons.

“Israel is not using any weapons prohibited under international conventions,” she said, and added that she was hoping the conflict could be resolved through international mediation.

“We are pinning our hopes on successful international mediation, in particular, by Egypt,” the envoy said.

In a rare televised appearance, Ismail Haniya, one of the leaders of the radical Islamic Hamas movement, which has been controling Gaza since June 2007, said that the fighting would continue, but added that the movement was prepared to examine any initiative “to stop the aggression and lift the blockade” on Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has, however, said that Israel will only call a halt to its operations in Gaza if Palestinian militants stop firing rockets on Israel’s southern territories and cease smuggling arms into the enclave of 1.5 million people.

Meanwhile, the search for a diplomatic solution is continuing in Cairo where Egyptian authorities are holding parallel talks with the Israelis and Palestinians.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to arrive in the Middle East Wednesday to meet leaders from the region to seek an end to the violence.

On Thursday, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution, with just the US abstaining, calling for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal ofIsraeli forces form Gaza”.

The death toll since Israel began its military offensive in Gaza Strip Dec 27 has risen to over 920 with over 4,000 injured.

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