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Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Saturday, 10 January 2009

Gaza conflict enters third week

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Israeli forces continue the ground and air assault on Gaza

Israel has continued to pound Gaza a week after sending in ground troops, despite the UN voicing disappointment ceasefire calls had not been heeded.

Israel said it launched 40 overnight air strikes, while Hamas militants fired several rockets at Israeli towns.

Senior Palestinian officials are in Egypt for talks on how to end the Gaza conflict, which began two weeks ago.

Health officials in Gaza say more than 800 Palestinians have died. Israel says 13 Israelis have been killed.

'Waterfall of blood'

The fresh wave of air strikes into Saturday morning had targeted weapons storage facilities and smuggling tunnels, according to Israel.

But Palestinian medical officials say eight people who appeared to be civilians were killed when an Israeli tank shell hit a street in Jabalya, in northern Gaza.

On the ground, Israeli troops are reported to have moved closer to the edge of Gaza City, though they have yet to go into the most densely populated areas.

This situation will not improve until Hamas stops lobbing rockets into Israel
Scott Stanzel
White House spokesman

Israel is preventing international journalists from entering the coastal strip.

Hamas fired more rockets at Israel on Saturday, a day after launching more than 30 of the missiles from Gaza, the Israeli military said. Two Israelis were injured by rockets in the Israeli town of Ashkelon.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged all sides on Saturday to accept an Egyptian-brokered truce, after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

But Mr Abbas - who heads the secular Fatah movement, bitter rivals of Hamas - does not control Gaza, and analysts say he will have little impact on the course of the conflict.

"If any party does not accept it [the truce], regrettably it will be the one bearing the responsibility, and if Israel doesn't want to accept, it will take the responsibility of perpetuating a waterfall of blood," Mr Abbas was quoted as saying by AP news agency.

GAZA CRISIS BACKGROUND
Israelis in Sderot run for cover on 9 January 2009

Hamas, which took control of Gaza in June 2007, has also sent delegates to Cairo for separate talks.

Egypt negotiated the last ceasefire between Hamas and Israel but, correspondents say, this conflict has strained an already difficult relationship between Cairo and Hamas.

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Friday some incidents reported during the fighting in Gaza might warrant prosecutions for war crimes.

"The vicious cycle of provocation and retribution must be brought to an end," she told the human rights council.

Both sides on Friday ignored a UN Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire to the conflict, which began on 27 December.

'Unworkable'

Hamas rejected the move first, saying it had not been consulted on the resolution. It insisted any truce must include the ending of Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the continued rocket attacks on Israel showed the resolution was "unworkable".

Map

Late on Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon telephoned Mr Olmert to express his disappointment that violence was continuing on the ground in disregard of the ceasefire call.

The United States, which abstained in the UN vote, offered further public support for Israel's military goals.

"This situation will not improve until Hamas stops lobbing rockets into Israel," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Aid agencies say Gaza's 1.5 million residents are in urgent need of food and medical aid.

The UN resumed aid distribution on Saturday for Palestinians in Gaza after receiving security assurances from Israel.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) had suspended its Gaza operations on Thursday after the driver of one of its trucks was killed, by what the truck company said was Israeli fire.

But the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) say they are "100% certain" that they did not fire on the truck.

The violence erupted as a six-month truce between Israel and Hamas unravelled in November and comes one month before a parliamentary election in Israel.

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