Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Israel accused over Gaza wounded

Gaza City mosque hit by bombardment - photo 8 January
Thursday's Israeli bombardment was the heaviest so far

The Red Cross has accused Israel of failing to fulfil its obligation to help wounded civilians in Gaza.

ICRC staff found four weak and scared children beside their mothers' bodies in houses hit by shelling in Zeitoun.

The Israeli military has not yet responded to the accusation, but said it worked closely with aid groups so that civilians could get assistance.

Meanwhile the UN said it was suspending aid operations in Gaza because of the danger to staff from Israeli attacks.

"We have suspended our operations in Gaza until the Israeli authorities can guarantee our safety and security," said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations relief agency Unrwa.

"Our installations have been hit, our workers have been killed in spite of the fact that the Israeli authorities have the co-ordinates of our facilities and that all our movements are co-ordinated with the Israeli army.

"It is with great regret that Unrwa has been forced to make this difficult decision."

Earlier, Unrwa said one person had been killed and two injured when a fork-lift truck on a UN aid mission came under Israeli tank fire at Gaza's Erez crossing.

The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded - neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded
Pierre Wettach
ICRC head for Israel and the Palestinian territories

The UN says the delivery had been co-ordinated with Israel.

The Israeli army has not commented on that claim but has said it is looking into the matter.

The aid agencies' concerns come amid fears the conflict with Gaza militants may spread, with at least three rockets fired from Lebanon into northern Israel, prompting Israel to reply with artillery.

The incident followed Israel's heaviest bombardment so far of Gaza in nearly two weeks of conflict, with 60 air strikes targeting Hamas facilities.

Palestinian medical officials said at least 10 Gaza residents had been killed on Thursday.

More than 700 Palestinian and 11 Israeli lives are said to have been lost since the offensive began 13 days ago.

For a second day, Israeli forces observed a three-hour pause in fighting to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

The first of what Israel said would be a daily ceasefire, on Wednesday, allowed aid agencies into the territory for the first time in days.

Efforts have continued to broker a full ceasefire - a senior Israeli official is in Cairo to hear details of a plan put forward by Egypt and France.

A Hamas delegation is expected in the Egyptian capital at some stage for parallel "technical" talks, Egyptian diplomats said.

'Access denied'

The International Committee of the Red Cross accused Israel of failing in its international obligations after its staff were met with "shocking" scenes.

Smoke rises over Gaza (06/01/2009)

One medical team found 12 bodies in a shelled house, and alongside them four very young children, too weak to stand, waiting by their dead mothers, the ICRC said.

Aid workers had been denied access to the site for days, it added.

"This is a shocking incident," Pierre Wettach, ICRC head for Israel and the Palestinian territories said in a statement.

"The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

Correspondents say the criticism is unusually strong, coming from an agency considered to be neutral.

The Israeli army told Reuters news agency that any serious allegations would be properly investigated once a formal complaint was received.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International accused both sides of using civilians as human shields.


Aftermath of rocket strike from Lebanon into northern Israel

At least three Katyusha rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into the northern Israeli area of Nahariya early on Thursday.

One hit a nursing home, leaving at least two people slightly wounded and a number of others suffering from shock, Israeli officials said.


Israel immediately responded with five artillery shells into Lebanon, calling it a "pinpoint response at the source of fire".

The rocket fire was condemned by Lebanon's prime minister.

The rocket attacks from Lebanon have raised concerns about a wider war in the region, says the BBC's Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen.

In Gaza, Israel continued its offensive overnight with 60 air strikes targeting police sites, 10 Hamas tunnels, weapons storage facilities, launching pads "and a number of armed gunmen", the Israeli army said.

Casualty claims in Gaza have been difficult to verify independently.

While the BBC has had Palestinian producers reporting from Gaza, Israel only allowed Western TV crews to enter on Wednesday, embedded with its army.

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