Gazans fearful of further attacks

Israel withdraws its troops before a two-day visit by the US secretary of state.

    A string of Israeli air raids across Gaza caused enormous devastation [EPA] 

    Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said Rice's regular but inconclusive visits were starting to lose weight with Palestinian citizens.
    Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said on Sunday he was suspending contact with Israel in light of the aggression against the Gaza Strip.
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    But by Monday he appeared willing to mediate a deal between Israel and his political rivals in Hamas, which control the strip.
    A statement from his office on Monday said the Fatah leader was "willing to work for the conclusion of a total truce with the Israeli side to spare our people more victims and suffering".
    A Hamas leader in Gaza confirmed to Al Jazeera that the group had received approaches from Fatah, but said Hamas "has not reached a decision yet and no direct talks with Abu Mazen [Abbas] have yet ensued".
    Israel threatens further action
    Despite calling an end to the operation Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said Israel would be taking further action in Gaza unless cross-border rocket fire was cut significantly.
    "We are not willing to show tolerance, period. We will respond," Olmert said.
    Rowland also reported that Gazans were "very anxious indeed".
    "They are hearing the talk in Israel about this being merely the first stage of the operation and they are wondering: if this was the first stage, what on earth can they be likely to face during any second phase."
    Speaking after the pullout, Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said the US-backed peace talks, which Washington hopes can result in a statehood deal this year, would remain frozen for now.
    "We are working hard to reach a full calm, a full cessation of hostilities. We want to make sure that what happened will not recur," Erekat said.
    Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, said the talks with Rice would focus on events in Gaza and that Palestinian leaders would urge her to press Israel to end its military operations there.
    Hamas 'victory'
    Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since June, declared victory after the Israeli withdrawal on Monday and in Gaza City, several thousand Hamas supporters took to the streets in celebration.
    Dozens of children were killed in the recent attacks on Gaza, which included a string of air raids in and around the territory.
    The Israeli rights organisation B'Tselem on Monday contradicted official claims that most of the Palestinians killed were fighters.
    "Contrary to the [Israeli] chief of staff's contention that 90 per cent were armed, at least 54 of the dead - 25 of them minors - did not take part in the hostilities," the rights group said in a statement on its website.
    Regional outcry
    Most of those who died were killed in a massive assault on Jabaliya, north of Gaza City.
    The Gaza violence touched off anti-Israeli protests around the region, including in the West Bank.

    Children in Beirut took part in a

    protesting against the attacks on Gaza [EPA]

    In Beirut, Lebanon's capital, several hundred schoolchildren took part in a Hezbollah-organised demonstration outside UN headquarters, calling on the world body to take action.
    Protests also took place in Palestinian refugee camps throughout southern Lebanon, and in Syria, thousands of Syrians and Palestinians also held a demonstration.
    In Egypt, where Arab demonstrators also took to the streets, Omar Suleiman, Egypt's intelligence chief, put off a trip to Israel, in protest at the "Israeli escalation" in Gaza, according to state media.
    Another date will be set for the visit, aimed at discussing ways of lifting the crippling blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza, "depending on Israel's commitment to international resolutions", said Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper.
    Missile attacks
    Israel said the operation in Jabaliya, in which two of its soldiers were killed, was aimed at rooting out the Palestinian fighters who have been firing homemade rockets at southern Israel on a near-daily basis.
    "We must remember that Israel is protecting its citizens in the south of the country and that with all due respect, nothing will prevent us from this duty," Olmert said on Saturday.
    The White House also called for an end to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.
    Hamas says it will continue firing rockets into Israel and launched one into the main southern city of Ashkelon shortly after the Israeli troops withdrew, wounding one person.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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