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Palestinian Death Toll in Gaza Tops 900

  • VOA News

Israeli ground forces are closing in on densely populated areas of Gaza to root out Hamas fighters, while Israeli warplanes bomb suspected militant positions and smuggling tunnels.

Israeli soldiers backed by tanks are reported to be battling Hamas militants on the outskirts of Gaza City. In one instance, Israel said its soldiers found a cache of weapons it said militants had hidden in an Israeli-bombed mosque.

Israeli intelligence officials say they suspect Hamas is using the basements of the city's largest hospital, Shifa, as a base of operations.

Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair said in Cairo today (Monday) that elements are in place for a cease-fire to end fighting in the Gaza Strip. (The United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia make up the Quartet.)

At a White House news conference, U.S. President George Bush said there will only be a sustainable cease-fire when Hamas stops rocket attacks on Israel, and when Egypt helps stop the smuggling of arms to Gaza from its territory. He also said Israel must be mindful of civilian casualties.

Medical officials in Gaza say more than 900 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive, which Israel says is to stop Hamas from firing missiles into southern Israel. The Palestinian rocket attacks continue, even as Israel deploys reserve units in Gaza.


Medical officials say about half of the Palestinian casualties are civilians. Israel has strictly limited foreign reporters entering Gaza and casualty figures are hard to confirm, although the United Nations has said they are generally credible.

Ten Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting, and three Israeli civilians have died in rocket fire.

The U.N. Human Rights Council today condemned the Israeli offensive, accusing it of "grave" human rights violations against the Palestinians.

Arab and African nations brought the resolution to the Council. It passed with 33 votes, one vote against (Canada) and 13 abstentions from European states. The United States does not have a seat on the Human Rights Council.

The resolution calls for an immediate cease-fire and promises an international investigation. Critics say the resolution is unbalanced because it does not mention Hamas rocket attacks into Israel.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to travel Tuesday to the Middle East for a seven-city tour to discuss the situation in Gaza.

Both Israel and Hamas have refused calls from the U.N. Security Council and others for a cease-fire.

But Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev says Israel is close to reaching its goals in the operation.

Aid agencies began resuming deliveries of food and other essentials today, after stopping last week because of the danger posed by the Israeli offensive. The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains dire, with severe shortages of water, power and food.

U.N. official John Ging says 35-thousand people in Gaza have fled their homes to 38 shelters, most of them in Gaza City.

The activist group Free Gaza has sent another boat with doctors, politicians and medical aid to the blockaded territory. The group's last attempt to deliver aid was stopped when its boat collided with an Israeli navy vessel December 30th.

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