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 Israel widens Gaza ground offensive

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PostSubject: Israel widens Gaza ground offensive   Wed Jan 07, 2009 7:18 pm

Israel widens Gaza ground offensive

Publication time: 6 January 2009, 14:25

The Israeli military appears to be broadening its assault on the Gaza Strip as heavy artillery fire is reported from the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis. Palestinian witnesses said Israeli tanks have moved into Khan Younis, the second biggest urban area in the Strip after Gaza City, in what seems to be an attempt to isolate it from Rafah.

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said Khan Younis is strategically significant on several levels - including that Palestinian fighters can fire missiles into Israeli territory from there.

He stressed reporting teams cannot confirm the reports as they are unable to reach the south from Gaza City in the north because the Strip has been effectively dissected by a column of Israel troops.

Mohyeldin also said Palestinian factions had reported that the Israeli navy was attempting to land near the central coastal city of Deir al-Balah - the scene of more intense fighting - on Tuesday.

"There was very intense shelling overnight and people woke to the presence of ground forces in and around Khan Younis this morning," he said.

At least 562 Palestinians have been killed and 2,470 injured in the war which began with seven days of sustained aerial bombardment by Israeli jet fighters on December 27.

Israel then launched its ground offensive on Saturday.

Four Israeli soldiers were killed and 24 wounded in battles around Gaza City on Monday night, the Israeli military said early on Tuesday, bringing the Israeli death toll to eight.

Fierce clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters were also reported in Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip and two blake plumes of smoke could be seen rising over the area.

Fares Akram, a Gaza city resident, told Al Jazeera there was "no safe place in Gaza" as "the Israeli war planes don't stop dropping bombs and firing missiles into Gaza".

Akram says his wife, who is nine-months pregnant, is living in fear of going into labour both because of how dangerous it is to leave their home and because "she knows hospitals in Gaza are in chaos".

He said that while Gazans appreciated demonstrations staged across the Arab world in protest at Israel's actions in the Strip, most believe that while the US backs the Israeli offensive the assault will continue.

In addition, the humanitarian situation in Gaza - already poor following the 18-month Israeli blockade of the strip that left the territory desperately short of fuel, food and medical supplies - is worsening.

John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said he was "shocked" by "the brutality of the injuries" he had seen during a visit to the Shifa hospital in Gaza.

He said: "There are very real shortages of medicine. This hospital has not had electricity for four days. If the generators go down, those in intensive care will die. This is a horrific tragedy here, and it is getting worse by the moment.

Ging described the situation as "the consequences of political failure and complete absence of accountability for this military action" and appealed for political leaders in the region and around the world to "take on the responsibility".

A number of diplomatic initiatives are under way in the region, with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, visiting Israel and Syria on Tuesday for talks aimed at brokering a ceasefire.

Israel launched its offensive on the Strip after a fragile six-month ceasefire with Hamas - the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza - ended on December 19.

Both sides blame each other for the failure of the ceasefire, with Israel saying Palestinian fighters breached the truce by firing rockets into southern Israel.

Hamas, and other Palestinian groups, say the truce could not be extended because Israel failed to lift its crippling siege of the Strip.


“There is no worse calamity for knowledge and its people than when outsiders intrude. They are ignorant, but presume to know. They cause trouble yet think that they are helping.” - Imam Ibn Hazm Rahimahullah

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