Israeli bombardment pounds Gaza

Tunnels and homes around Rafah come under intense attack after Israeli warning.

    Homes, mosques and government buildings have
    been hit in the Israeli bombardment [AFP]

    An Israeli army spokeswoman said the military dropped the flyers "as in the past to avoid civilian casualties".

    At least 700 Palestinians, including 219 children, have died in Gaza since Israel began its assault on December 27. More than 3,080 people have also been wounded.

    Eight Israeli soldiers and three civilians have died in the same period.

    Besieged Gazans

    Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said such flyers would have frightened the civilian population of southern Gaza.

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    "Israel has cut the northern part of Gaza from the southern part. Those in the southern part wouldn't be able to go to the north seeking refuge and vice versa," he said.

    Mohyeldin said there was also another night of  heavy bombardment in the north around Gaza City.

    "Most of the targets hit throughout the northern part of the territory included mosques and homes that have been previously struck on the previous days of this conflict. Some of the government buildings and police stations that were nearly destroyed are now completely levelled," he said.

    The AFP news agency quoted witnesses as saying that dozens of Israeli tanks had entered southern Gaza and were heading towards Rafah.

    Fierce fighting was also reported between Palestinian fighters and Israeli soldiers around Khan Yunis.

    It was unclear if the latest offensive was the "third stage" of the offensive approved by the Israeli security cabinet on Wednesday.

    A senior Israeli defence official said a meeting chaired by Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, had "approved continuing the ground offensive, including a third stage that would broaden it by pushing deeper into populated areas". 

    The renewed fighting followed a three-hour lull that allowed beleaguered Gazans and aid workers to recover dead bodies, treat the wounded, and gather much-needed supplies in and around Gaza City.

    Israeli officials said a second temporary ceasefire was due to be observed on Wednesday to allow humanitarian aid into the strip.

    'Shocking' incident

    The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday accused the Israeli military of not helping wounded Palestinians in an incident in Gaza City that it described as "shocking".

    ICRC and Palestinian Red Crescent workers said in a statement that several wounded Palestinians and four weakened children were found alongside 12 dead bodies in houses hit by shelling in Zaytun, less than 100 metres from Israeli positions.

    "The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded," it said.

    The Red Cross team, including four ambulances, had only gained safe passage from Israeli army to access the neighbourhood on January 7 after trying for four days, the ICRC said.
     
    Meanwhile, Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank shot dead a Palestinian in a confrontation at a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem, Israeli radio reported. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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