He also said the occupation on Tuesday pushed several tanks through the only open gateway used as an exit for Iraqi families in an apparent violation of the latest ceasefire in Falluja.

 

"The invading forces were met with fierce resistance by the Falluja defenders which forced the US tanks into a quick withdrawal," correspondent Abd Al-Adhim Muhammad reported. 

 

"Five were killed and several others injured in the battles between the resistance fighters and the occupation troops."

 

The US fighter planes dropped stun bombs to cover their  troops withdrawal, he added. 

 

US denial

 

But occupation troops denied any violation of the ceasefire.

 

"Up to this moment and based on my sources, there is no violation ... but as we have always said, the coalition forces have the right to defend themselves in case there were violations by the other side," Garth Billy, occupation authority spokesperson said in an interview with Aljazeera TV.

 

Billy also denied the US is targeting civilians.

 

"There are very clear rules of engagement in every battle. The coalition forces follow specific, deliberate and strong rules of conduct. Thus, among our basic objectives is to minimise the number of innocent civilian casualties.

 

Several houses were destroyed
in Falluja fighting

"But I may add that some fighters are 100% ready to put themselves in hospitals, schools and houses. As a result, there were civilian casualties, which is something tragic. We prefer if those fighters would come out into neutral zones to fight against the coalition forces."

 

US helicopter downed

 

Also on Tuesday, a US MH-53 helicopter crashed southeast of Falluja and marines who rushed to secure the crash site came under attack and sustained casualties.

 

A Marine officer said it was not known how many people were aboard the helicopter, which can carry up to 55 people.

  

He said the aircraft which crashed on Tuesday did not belong to the Marine Corps, but to another US government agency.

 

Witnesses told Aljazeera it was hit by ground fire during heavy fighting in the area. 

  

The officer said marines sent to the crash site, about 20km southeast of Falluja, came under attack and sustained unspecified casualties.

 

As the marines were taking the casualties to a trauma centre, they were ambushed by fighters firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and suffered more casualties, the officer said, without giving further details.

  

The crash came just two days after an Apache helicopter was downed by fighters in the same area with the loss of two crewmen. 

Falluja ceasefire 

The temporary ceasefire announced on Sunday was renewed late on Monday, said Iraqi negotiators.

A delegation representing the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) and the Iraqi Islamic party was sent to Falluja for a third round of negotiations on Monday. The AMS is the highest Sunni authority in Iraq.

 
The main sticking point is who will take responsibility for security after US forces withdraw, reported Muhammad. 
 

Despite a truce, jittery US troops
fired on Falluja residents

Residents are calling for Iraqi police and civil defence units from the city to replace the troops.

For its part, US forces want to secure promises that they will not be attacked during the withdrawal. 

The occupation besieged Falluja, 65km west of Baghdad, nine days ago in an effort to crush the resistance in the city of 300,000. Troops had completely sealed the city, preventing anyone from entering or leaving.

Civilian toll mounts

Since then, the toll among Iraqis in Falluja has topped 700 and another 1200 have been injured, according to medical and US military personnel. 

On the ground, minor skirmishes have broken out since the ceasefire, but the situation has been relatively calm. 

Iraqi fighters in the Golan neighbourhood, the scene of fierce battles last week, continued to patrol the streets. They have vowed to resume fighting if occupation troops break the ceasefire.

Medical sources at Falluja's only functioning hospital said the main injuries being treated were gunshot wounds inflicted by US snipers, reported our correspondent.

He spoke to civilians at the hospital who said they were fleeing the city when they came under attack. There were several casualties, including a child, the distraught father told him.

Elsewhere, mortar rounds slammed into central Baghdad's busy district on Tuesday, killing an Iraqi motorist, witnesses said.

One bomb landed in a busy street, killing a driver and gouging a crater in the road. Another sent smoke rising from the so-called Green Zone which houses the occupation headquarters. There were no reports of casualties. A third round hit a parking lot by the Tigris.