A delegation from Iraq's Governing Council went to the restive  town on Saturday to try to secure a peace deal after six straight days of clashes between occupation troops and armed resistance fighters. 

"The delegation, which is made up of two members of the Governing Council and also includes clerics and other notables from Baghdad, is meeting in Falluja now," Mahmud Uthman, a member of the IGC said.

"They are meeting with religious leaders there, and with leaders of the anti-coalition forces," Uthman said, adding that they were likely to stay "until a deal can be cut".

The IGC's delegation is made up of Hakim al-Hosni, deputy head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, and Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni member of the 25-member council. Uthman did not say who the Baghdad clerics and notables were.

Ceasefire offered

Kimmitt said ceasefire might be
in place at 08:00 GMT on Saturday 

Earlier on Saturday, US forces offered the resistance in Falluja a ceasefire to allow for peace talks.

"Coalition forces are prepared to implement a ceasefire with enemy elements in Falluja commencing at noon today (08:00 GMT)," Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, a US military spokesman, told a news conference in Baghdad.

"At this point it's an aspiration. We are hoping to use this press conference ... to get this message to the enemy."

IGC calls

The occupation force's offer comes as Iraq's US-appointed Governing Council on Saturday urged an immediate ceasefire in Falluja, criticising the US drive against the resistance as "collective punishment" of civilians as well.

"We call for an immediate ceasefire and for resorting to political solutions for situations in some parts of the country, particularly in the city of Falluja"

Iraqi Governing Council statement

"We call for an immediate ceasefire and for resorting to political solutions for situations in some parts of the country, particularly in the city of Falluja," the interim council said in a statement.

The statement called for speeding up the process of transferring power from the US-led occupation to Iraqis and an end to all armed presences across the country.

Resignation threats

The council urged the adoption of policies to fight unemployment and resolve social and economic problems in Iraq, instead of "facing security problems with military and police ways."

Pachachi: We consider action by
US forces as illegal  

Angry members of the interim council on Friday threatened to resign if American forces did not halt their bloody offensive in Falluja.

Even Adnan Pachachi, widely seen as the most pro-American member of the 25-member council, was incensed by the violence in Falluja.

"We consider the action carried out by US forces as illegal and totally unacceptable," he said.

Speaking to Aljazeera, IGC member and spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic party Hakim al-Hasni also called on fighters in Falluja to halt "military actions".

"US forces in Falluja claim their attacks come in retaliation for the resistance they meet," al-Hasni said. "Therefore, I call upon you (fighters in Falluja), on behalf of the Islamic party, to stop military action in order to prevent bloodshed and give us an opportunity to transfer the injured, bury the killed people and send humanitarian aid to the city," he added. 

Under siege

Up to the ceasefire and the meeting Falluja remained under siege as US warplanes struck the town twice on Saturday.

In Falluja, the correspondent said US warplanes struck the town at 12:50am (20:50 GMT) and 03:30am (23:30 GMT), injuring at least two people. Several bombs were dropped on different parts of the town. He also said the Golan area came under fierce bombardment hours after US forces had offered a ceasefire.

Witnesses told Aljazeera four houses were targeted in the Golan area.

A US helicopter has also been gunned down in the Amiriyat area of Falluja, witnesses told Aljazeera.

US snipers are also deployed in the industrial area of the town and on the outskirts. At least one Iraqi, a 75-year old man is reported to have been killed by sniper fire, the correspondent said. 

Falluja clashes have left more than
450, including children, dead

The number of casualties could not yet be confirmed as ambulances were still transporting victims to the hospital. Some residents told Aljazeera they were unable to transport the injured to hospitals, due to the volatile situation.

In response to the attacks, resistance fighters launched two mortar attacks on US sites east of the Euphrates, the correspondent said.

Many families had gathered in the centre of the town, seeking a way out after being sealed off for the sixth consecutive day.

In the town of Kut, south of Baghdad, seven Iraqis have been killed, including five children and a woman, Aljazeera's correspondent reported.

Baghdad attacks

In Baghdad, an Iraqi was killed on Saturday when a US tank opened fire at a group of citizens trying to protect al-Rawda al-Kadhimiya (Imam Kadhim shrine) in Baghdad, according to Aljazeera's correspondent. 

The truck was part of a US military
convoy when attacked

Also, a US Abrams tank and a trailer truck were on fire after two separate attacks near Baghdad airport on Saturday.

The tank was left burning at al-Adil crossroad on the way to the airport, he said. US troops cordoned off the area, preventing journalists from approaching.

Nearby, a trailer truck, which was part of a US military convoy, was hit earlier on Saturday by a rocket-propelled grenade, witnesses said. Other reports said the truck had been hit by a roadside bomb. 

Green Zone attack

Two rockets or mortar rounds were fired into the US-led occupation's heavily fortified Baghdad administrative compound in the Green Zone, on Saturday afternoon, an AFP correspondent witnessed. No further details are available.

Smoke billows from the occupation
headquarters in Baghdad

Elsewhere in Baghdad, heavy exchanges of fire raged on Saturday between US troops and fighters.

Blasts and gunfire were heard around a former presidential palace used as a US military base in the Aadhamiya neighbourhood. Smoke was seen billowing into the sky.

US troops cordoned off the entire neighbourhood, preventing access by journalists.

At least 40 Iraqis were killed and several soldiers wounded in fierce overnight battles in Baghdad, a US military spokesman said on Saturday.

In Baquba, north of Baghdad, a strike is underway at all official departments in protest at the the closure imposed upon Falluja by occupation forces, the correspondent reported.

Three medical workers in one of Baquba's hospitals were injured by US fire, he added.