We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Fri 9 Jan 2009 08:22 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

New Gaza ceasefire call as death toll nears 800

UPDATE 2: Israel continues to batter Gaza with bombs, shells despite UN order.

Israel battered Gaza with bombs and shells on Friday, vowing its offensive on Hamas would go on despite an order by the UN Security Council to stop the assault that has killed hundreds of civilians.

"Israel has never agreed for any outside influence to decide on its right to defend its citizens," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, according to a statement from his office.

"The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will continue to operate in order to defend the citizens of Israel and will carry out the task it was given for the operation," said the statement, which was released as the Israeli security cabinet met to debate how to proceed with the two-week-old campaign.

"This morning's rocket fire against the citizens in the south only proves that the UN resolution is not practical and will not be respected by the Palestinian terror organisations," Olmert said.

A Hamas official in Beirut, Raafat Morra, said his group was also rejecting the UN resolution, because "it is not in the best interest of the Palestinian people."

Israel staged more than 50 air strikes in Gaza which Palestinian emergency services said killed 12 civilians, taking the death toll since the campaign began to almost 800.

Hamas and its allies fired more than 15 rockets into southern Israel, injuring one person, the military said. At least four Grad rockets hit Beersheva, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Gaza.

Pressure on the two sides increased with the UN Security Council resolution which demanded an "immediate, durable" ceasefire leading to the "full withdrawal" of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called the UN move an "important step," but stressed that applying it was key.

"The credibility of the international community is at stake," his spokesman quoted him as saying. "We need words to be translated into deeds."

Israel has been strongly criticised by UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other aid groups. The text called for "the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment."

Fourteen of the 15 council members voted in favour. The United States, Israel's main ally, abstained but refrained from vetoing the resolution agreed after lengthy negotiations between Arab and Western foreign ministers.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States had wanted to see what happened to a peace initiative by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who has invited Israel and the Palestinians to Cairo for talks on truce conditions.

Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, political rivals in the ruling coalition, held a special meeting before starting a security cabinet with other top ministers and military leaders.

The three key ministers are divided over how to continue Operation Cast Lead.

Olmert is reported to be in favour of pursuing the military offensive, while Labour leader Barak wants a ceasefire. Livni has spoken out against any ceasefire with Hamas because this would give implicit recognition of the Islamist movement which Israel and most Western nations have on their terrorist lists.

Israel launched its war against Hamas on December 27 aiming to end rocket attacks in southern Israel and the smuggling of weapons into Gaza from Egypt. Palestinian medics say at least 785 people have been killed since then.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed in combat or rocket attacks into Israel over the same time. Hamas has demanded the end of Israel's blockade of Gaza, imposed after the Islamist group pledged to Israel's destruction seized power there in June 2007.

The ICRC said it is restricting Gaza operations to the territory's main city after a vehicle was hit, apparently by Israeli forces, a spokeswoman said.

"We had an incident when one of our trucks travelling at the front of a convoy of 13 ambulances delivering medical assistance to south Gaza was shot at," ICRC spokeswoman Anne Sophie Bonefeld told AFP. She said one person was wounded.

"We very much believe it was the IDF (Israeli military)" and the ICRC was temporarily limiting operations to Gaza City to review security arrangements.

There has been mounting criticism of the civilian death toll from Israel's offensive. The main UN Palestinian relief agency, UNRWA, suspended operations in the enclave on Thursday after a UN convoy was hit by two Israeli tank shells, killing a truck driver.

Hamas criticised the decision by the agency, which distributes food to about half of Gaza's 1.5 million people as well as running schools and other centres.

The ICRC has accused Israel of failing to help the wounded after rescuers found four small children clinging to their dead mothers.

Israel has said it was investigating the incidents but has repeatedly insisted Hamas is to blame for civilian deaths because the Islamist fighters operate from densely populated areas.

Thousands of Israeli security forces were deployed in east Jerusalem on Friday after Hamas called for a "day of wrath" over the Gaza offensive following similar protests last week.

The army also sealed off the West Bank for 48 hours, with movement in and out of the territory prohibited except for emergencies and special cases.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

Real news, real analysis and real insight have real value – especially at a time like this. Unlimited access ArabianBusiness.com can be unlocked for as little as $4.75 per month. Click here for more details.