Israeli shelling kills 24 civilians, including two families

January 5th, 2009 - 8:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Gaza/Tel Aviv, Jan 5 (DPA) Israel pounded Gaza from the air, sea and ground on the second full day of its ground offensive Monday, with the air force, navy and artillery backing its ground troops and their shelling killing at least 24 Palestinian civilians — 13 of them children of two families.A tank shell destroyed a house during fighting in Gaza City’s southeastern Zaytoun neighbourhood before dawn, killing 13 members of one family, Assamouni, including the father, mother and eight children aged four to 15, hospital officials said. Ambulances were able to reach the house only after daylight, witnesses said.

A naval shell later also struck a house in western Gaza City’s Beach refugee camp Monday morning, killing a father, mother and their five children, the chief of the emergency room of Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, Haythem Dababish, told DPA.

In Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza city near the border with Israel, four more civilians died when a tank shell hit a mourning tent set up near the home of a paramedic killed Sunday, the town’s hospital said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was due to arrive in Israel late Monday as part of a trip to the Middle East that is to include talks in Cairo, Ramallah and Jerusalem, as international efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution continued amid the heavy fighting.

But keeping up the pressure, Israeli fighter jets meanwhile struck some 30 more targets in the coastal enclave overnight, the military said.

Israeli ground troops, which entered the strip late Saturday under the cover of darkness, have taken control of areas from which Palestinian militants have been firing rockets at southern Israel.

While thus far largely avoiding populated areas, the troops have also encircled Gaza City, under heavy fire, and cut off the north from the south of the strip by taking control of a key east-west road leading from the Karni border crossing, east of the city, toward the coast.

The troop’s advance sparked heavy clashes with local Hamas fighters.

Since Israel launched its Operation “Cast Lead” nine days ago - aimed at curbing seven years of rocket and mortar attacks against its southern towns and villages - more than 520 Palestinians have been killed and at least 2,500 injured.

Hamas, which has kept one Israeli soldier captive in Gaza since June 2005 as a bargaining chip to free Palestinian militants from Israeli prisons, has threatened to use the ground offensive to capture more Israeli soldiers. Israel Radio reported Monday that the Israeli army foiled one such attempt by Hamas fighters the previous day.

At least five Israeli soldiers were moderately injured overnight, Israel Radio reported, and an unknown number of Palestinians. One Israeli soldier was killed and some 31 injured in the fighting Sunday.

Four Israelis have also died by Palestinian rocket attacks since the Israeli operation began Dec 27.

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