01/12/2009, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Israeli troops take the war to Gaza’s cities

by Joshua Lapide
Hamas continues to fire rockets against Israeli cities despite a drop in number. Almost 900 Palestinians, half civilians, have died so far. Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of using white phosphorous shells which set homes on fire and burn skin. The Arab world stressed the humanitarian crisis in Gaza but gives Hamas the cold shoulder.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Israeli ground forces have begun making their way into the cities of Gaza Strip; tanks and infantry have in fact begun moving into the most densely populated areas of the territory. Hamas meanwhile continues to launch rockets against Israel.

Such actions have become necessary because Hamas is using civilian areas as shield and hideaways for its militants, a spokesperson for the Israeli army said.

Early Monday, Israeli navy gunboats fired more than 25 shells at Gaza City. Overnight Israeli airplanes also carried out about ten strikes.

A rocket launched from Gaza scored a direct hit on a home in Ashkelon without causing casualties. Still the Israel Defence Forces said that there has been a dramatic drop in the ability of Hamas to launch rockets against Israel, dropping by 50 per cent compared to the first day of Operation Cast Lead, 27 December.

Gaza medical officials said that at least 870 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have been killed. Fourteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have died.

“Israel is nearing the goals that it set for itself,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday, adding however that the offensive was not over yet.

Israel’s objective is to stop rockets from landing on southern Israeli towns, as well as an end to weapons and ammunition smuggling through tunnels from Egypt to Gaza.

The international community continues to press for an end to the conflict, but neither Israel nor Hamas have accepted the ceasefire proposed by the United Nations Security Council.

The Israeli military reported that its troops have killed at least 300 armed Hamas fighters and leaders and perhaps as many in air strikes.

But humanitarian organisations have called on Israel to be more careful with regards to the safety of Palestinian civilians, especially since the latter cannot escape to safe areas because all exit points in the Strip are sealed.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also accused Israel of using white phosphorus in military operations. White phosphorus can set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire, severely burn people, and cause unnecessary suffering in the civilian population.

Israel has denied that its army is using this type of weapon but HRW insists that it does.

In the Arab and Islamic world, as well as in Europe, demonstrations have taken place in support of the Palestinian cause.

Governments on the other hand have opted to condemn Israel without praising Hamas, strongly insisting on the humanitarian aspect of the problem.

Indonesian President Susilo has warned against “manipulating” the Gaza conflict and turn it into an international war (Israel-West-Christians versus Palestinian Muslims).

Similarly, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia has criticised pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the Arab world, saying that it is more important to raise funds for the population than go out into the streets.

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