Heavy fighting in Gaza City despite diplomatic efforts
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Heavy gun battles rocked the north and east of Gaza City as EU leaders toured the region in a bid to obtain a ceasefire. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni rebuffed their proposals, saying Israel would not "reach agreement with terror".
The Israeli military began invading the Gaza Strip on Saturday, shortly before 7:30 pm. Keep track of the unfolding operations with our timeline by clicking here.
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Israeli tanks and troops pushed into Gaza City after nightfall Monday amid heavy fighting, as Israeli leaders rebuffed concerted European diplomatic efforts to broker an immediate ceasefire in the region.
On the tenth day of its Gaza offensive, witnesses reported the first clashes between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters in Gaza City. “Violence has increased in the last two hours; fighting has been intensifying,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Radja Abou Dagga in Gaza City shortly after nightfall.
“We can hear clashes, machine guns, all the way between where we stand and the eastern border,” added Zuheir al Najaar, another FRANCE 24 correspondent reporting from Gaza City.
The intensified fighting came as Hamas vowed to continue their fight with Israel. Najaar reports that a spokesman for the Ezzedine al Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, told reporters they were “waiting for Israeli troops because they have a big surprise for them in the city”.
Palestinian medical sources say more than 500 people, including women and children, have been killed and about 2,500 have been wounded since the offensive began.
|Palestinian women mourn the deaths of relatives at Gaza City's al-Shifa hospital.|
Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP
Palestinian medical sources said that at least 50 people died as a result of Monday’s fighting, most of them civilians. "The situation is catastrophic. The Israelis are striking civilian areas from air, ground and sea," Tarek Abdel Chafi, a French-Palestinian teacher, told FRANCE 24 from Gaza. "There is no more electricity, no more water, no more gas. In hospitals, medicals operations are done in the corridors."
Hamas militants have continued firing rockets into Israeli territory — the original cause of the current offensive. Four Israelis, including one soldier, have died since the attacks resumed last month.
The offensive continued even as senior European envoys criss-crossed the region in a bid to open talks on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Sarkozy calls for a "provisional humanitarian truce"
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and a European Union delegation headed by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg — whose country holds the European bloc's rotating presidency — met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“The European Union continues to support you unreservedly,” Sarkozy told Abbas. “Israel is a great nation, Israel is a great democracy and the world would not understand that Israel would allow the humanitarian situation to get even worse than it is today,” the French president added, calling for a “provisional humanitarian truce”.
Abbas called for an “immediate stop” to the Israeli offensive as a prerequisite to negotiations. He said he would travel to New York to lobby for a United Nations resolution on a truce and the deployment of an “international force in the Gaza Strip”.
The Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank, but has no power over the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The EU delegations earlier met Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh. Sarkozy, who also met Mubarak, arrived in Jerusalem Monday night to hold talks with his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
|French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to travel to Egypt, the West Bank, Israel, Syria and Lebanon.|
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem after her meeting with visiting European envoys, Livni rejected calls for a truce and for the reopening of border crossings into the densely populated coastal enclave. "We are fighting with terror, and we are not reaching an agreement with terror," she said.
For its part, Hamas has also rejected calls to stop firing rockets into Gaza and has maintained that any ceasefire agreement should include the issue of lifting the blockade of the besieged Strip.
"We are ready for a ceasefire," Palestinian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Youssef, a member of Hamas, told FRANCE 24 from Gaza. Asked about the conditions for a truce, he said: "The Israelis should stop their aggression and the siege of Gaza."
Yet a Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo Monday night and is due to hold talks with Egyptian mediators on Tuesday.
During his visit to the region, Sarkozy is expected to travel to Syria Tuesday.
"Syria is a vital partner when it comes to passing messages to Hamas, with whom there is no official contact," said FRANCE 24’s David Crossan, reporting from Egypt.
Hamas continues rocket attacks
Despite the Israeli invasion, Hamas militants have fired around 32 rockets towards Israel since Sunday evening, according to Israel’s police. Two of those landed on the Israeli town of Sderot.
"One of them landed on the market," said FRANCE 24 reporter Sophie Claudet from the terror-stricken town. "Fortunately it was not market day and nobody was hurt."
Meanwhile, US President George W. Bush said any cease-fire to end the Gaza crisis must include provisions that prevent Hamas from using the coastal strip to fire rockets into Israel.
"I understand Israel's desire to protect itself and that the situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas," said Bush.
US president-elect Barack Obama, who will take office on January 20, expressed “deep concern” about the situation in Gaza but refused to comment further. “There are delicate negotiations taking place right now and we can't have two voices coming out of the United States,” he said.
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