Israel ups pressure on Hamas as fighting enters 19th day (Lead)

January 14th, 2009 - 8:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv/Gaza, Jan 14 (DPA) Israel appeared Wednesday to be increasing its pressure on Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip, as its air force attacked 60 targets in the salient overnight, bringing to 160 the number of airstrikes carried out in the past 24 hours.A military spokesman said Wednesday morning that the latest targets included police headquarters in Gaza City, rocket launching sites, nine arms depots and 35 smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egyptian border, which Israel believes are used to bring weapons into the salient.

Aircraft also gave air support to troops on the ground, the spokesman said.

Planes also rocketed Gaza City’s main cemetery Wednesday, destroying several graves, a witness said.

Other Gaza residents, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said that Gaza militants have launched homemade rockets from inside the cemetery at southern Israeli towns in recent days.

Israeli troops continued to position themselves on the outskirts of Gaza city, apparently trying to lure militants out, rather than enter the densely-populated built up areas which are believed to have been heavily fortified by Hamas, giving them an advantage in street fighting.

In other ground fighting, an Israeli paratroop force opened fire on a gunman wearing an explosive belt, killing him, a military spokesman said.

And two Palestinian bystanders were killed Wednesday morning in an Israeli airstrike on a main street in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, medical officials and witnesses said.

As with previous days, Israel was set to introduce a three-hour humanitarian lull in the fighting, to allow Gazans to stock up with essential necessities.

Some 111 trucks also were set to enter the salient with humanitarian aid, including 104,000 litres of fuel.

Israel launched its Operation Cast Lead against Palestinian militants, led by Hamas, in the Gaza Strip Dec 27, following massive rocket bombardments from the salient on southern Israel.

In the 19 days of the Israeli operation, some 977 Palestinians have been killed, and more than 4,500 injured, Mo’aweya Hassanein, the chief of emergency services in Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, said.

He said two-thirds of the dead were civilians, a number which could not be independently verified.

Israel says more than 400 militants are among the dead. Thirteen Israelis have also been killed, three of them civilians.

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