Israeli army kills 56 Palestinians in Gaza

March 2nd, 2008 - 5:34 am ICT by admin  

Gaza, March 2 (DPA) The Israeli army has killed 56 Palestinians and wounded 200 in a large-scale ground operation in the northern Gaza Strip, Hamas sources said. This brought to 90 the number of Palestinians killed - many of them civilians - since the Israeli army operation began Wednesday, the Hamas-controlled health ministry said Saturday.

Two Israeli soldiers were also reported killed in eastern Jabalia in northern Gaza Strip and ten Israelis were reported injured by the homemade rockets militants fired into southern Israel from Gaza.

The Palestinian leadership meanwhile called off the talks it has been holding with Israel on the Middle East peace process, the Israeli foreign ministry confirmed.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been holding bi-weekly meetings since they re-launched peace talks at the Annapolis conference last year.

The Hamas sources said Israeli warplanes and tanks continued to fire missiles and shells at houses and individuals in northern Gaza Saturday. At least 20 of the victims were civilians, including four women and 11 children.

Mo’aweya Hassanein, chief of emergency and ambulance services at the Palestinian health ministry, told reporters: “I have never witnessed such a high death toll since I started my career 20 years ago.”

The highest number of fatalities in a single day was in November last year, when the Israeli army killed 21 Palestinians.

Several militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad (Holy War), meanwhile claimed to have launched dozens more homemade rockets and mortars at Israel despite the offensive.

Speaking to members of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in a meeting held earlier in Ramallah, Palestinian President President Abbas said: “What is actually happening in Gaza is more than a holocaust” - a reference to a recent statement by an Israeli official.

“I do not think what Israel is doing is in retaliation to the missiles, which we condemn,” said Abbas.

“These missiles cannot be of the volume to justify this horrifying act, which required, regrettably, the use of a word despised for over 60 years and this word is ‘holocaust’.”

Hamas police sources said dozens of Israeli army tanks backed by helicopters and drones attacked an area east of Jabalia town in the northern Gaza Strip, with heavy gun battles erupting.

A fresh Israeli air strike was carried out at a house in northern Gaza City, killing the owner of the house and another child. Three were injured, witnesses and medics said.

In Jabalia, Israeli aircraft carried out two separate strikes on a van and on a car, killing four people in each strike, Hamas police sources and witnesses said.

The Israeli army rolled into the eastern areas of the northern Gaza Strip after midnight, apparently to remove Palestinian rocket squads from the border and curb their homemade rocket attacks.

On Friday, Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said that unless Palestinians in Gaza stopped firing missiles into Israel, they would face a holocaust. The word “holocaust” in Israel is highly bound to the concept of the genocide of World War II.

His statement provoked widespread condemnation and concern that Israel intended to escalate its military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas, who is to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Ramallah early next week, called on the international community “to take the necessary steps, which I hope will stop this Israeli belligerence that targets only innocent children and women”.

Abbas also called on all militant groups to stop launching rockets at Israel.

“It is a high interest for the Palestinian people not to give Israel any excuse to continue its aggression,” Abbas said.

Meanwhile, the European Commission representative in Jerusalem expressed concern over the impact of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.

“This loss of life highlights even more the need to find a political solution to what is essentially a political crisis,” John Kjaer said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, was expected in Israel and the Palestinian territories Sunday to help salvage the crumbling peace process.

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