Page last updated at 22:52 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Growing calls for Gaza ceasefire


Israel pounds Gaza for fourth day

Foreign powers stepped up calls for Israel and the militant group Hamas to end hostilities, after four days of violence in and around Gaza.

Both the Quartet of Middle East peace-brokers and EU foreign ministers have called for an immediate ceasefire.

Palestinians say more than 360 people have died in Israeli air strikes since Saturday. Four Israelis have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza.

Israel has warned that it is ready for weeks of action to end the rocket fire.

The calls came as Israel confirmed that a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the town of Beersheba. At 42 km (26 miles) inside Israel, it is the furthest a missile has ever reached.

In Gaza, Israeli missiles continued to pound buildings and installations linked to Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. The Israeli military said it hit more than 30 targets.

The UN says at least 62 civilians have died since Saturday; humanitarian agencies say they are struggling to contend with both the air strikes and a lack of supplies.

"We have nothing in our warehouses," a spokesman for Unrwa, the UN agency in Gaza, told the BBC.

"There is a serious shortage of medical supplies. Hospitals in the Gaza Strip are not equipped at all to handle this huge number of dead and injured people."

Aid access

The statement from the Quartet - which comprises the US, UN, EU and Russia - followed a teleconference involving key representatives.

It called for a ceasefire "that would be fully respected" and for all parties to address "the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza", a UN spokeswoman said.

An injured Palestinian man is taken to hospital

The EU foreign ministers echoed the call following a meeting in the French capital, Paris.

Food, urgent medical aid, fuel and humanitarian workers should be allowed in to Gaza and the injured evacuated, it said.

Diplomatic efforts to achieve a lasting peace deal should be stepped up, it added.

Earlier in the day French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner proposed a 48-hour truce to allow aid in to Gaza; Israel has yet to respond.

But the BBC's correspondent in Paris says the Israeli government has little time for many European governments' positions and the ministers are well aware of their relative impotence.

The US - Israel's strongest ally - has called for a long-term solution beyond any immediate ceasefire. But the White House reiterated that the onus was on Hamas to act first to end the violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said earlier that the air assault on Gaza was "the first in several stages" of operations against Hamas. Another top official said Israel was ready for "long weeks of action".

Israel has massed forces along the boundary with Gaza and has declared the area around it a "closed military zone".

Correspondents say the move could be a prelude to ground operations, but could also be intended to build pressure on Hamas.

The Israeli air strikes began less than a week after the expiry of a six-month-long ceasefire deal with Hamas.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but has kept tight control over access in and out of Gaza and its airspace.

Map of attacks in and around Gaza
1. Ashdod: First attack so far north, Sunday. Woman killed in second rocket attack, Tuesday
2. Ashkelon: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Monday
3. Sderot: rocket attacks
4. Nevitot: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Saturday
5. Civilian family reported killed in attack on Yabna refugee camp, Sunday
Israeli warplanes strike tunnels under Gaza/Egypt border, Sunday
7. Three brothers reported killed in attack on Rafah, Sunday
8. Khan Younis: Four members of Islamic Jihad and a child reported killed, Sunday. Security officer killed in air strike on Hamas police station, Tuesday
9. Deir al-Balah: Palestinians injured, houses and buildings destroyed, Sunday
10. Tel al-Hawa - Interior ministry and Islamic University badly damaged, Monday. At least three buildings in ministry compound hit, Tuesday
11. Gaza City port: naval vessels targeted, Sunday
12. Shati refugee camp: Home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya targeted, Monday
13. Intelligence building attacked, Sunday
14. Jebaliya refugee camp: several people killed in attack on mosque, Sunday 15. Beit Hanoun - two girls killed in air strike, Tuesday
16. Israeli soldier killed at unspecified military base near Nahal Oz border crossing - five other soldiers wounded in same rocket attack, Monday night.

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