UN calls for immediate Gaza truce, attacks go on

Fri Jan 9, 2009 4:02am EST

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* U.N. Security Council calls for immediate ceasefire

* Israel's security cabinet considers next move

* Israeli tank shell kills six after truce call, medics say



By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Israel pushed ahead with its two-week-old offensive in the Gaza Strip, ignoring a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

As bombs blasted the coastal enclave for a 14th day, senior Israeli ministers met to consider the next move. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni gave an indication the guns were unlikely to fall silent: "Israel has acted, is acting and will act only according to its considerations, the security needs of its citizens and its right to self defence," her statement said.

Israeli warplanes dropped bombs on the outskirts of the city of Gaza, residents said. Elsewhere, Palestinian medics said tanks shelled a house in Beit Lahiya in the north of the Gaza Strip, killing six Palestinians from the same family.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Livni met but the vote in New York appeared to place little new pressure on them to halt attacks that have killed hundreds of Palestinians. Key ally the United States, abstained, noting talks on a truce were still under way under Egyptian mediation.

Olmert's security cabinet on Wednesday put off a decision on whether to launch a massive escalation of the offensive on Hamas guerrillas by moving troops in a third phase deep into urban areas, a move that would mean calling in reservists. Officials said ministers would meet again at noon (1000 GMT) on Friday.

The onslaught in Gaza, where many civilians including children have been killed, has solid support among Israeli voters who go to the polls in a month. Most back Olmert's stated aim of ending years of rocket fire by Hamas on Israeli towns, that have killed 22 people since 2000.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, governed by Hamas's rival Fatah movement under President Mahmoud Abbas, have been enraged by the Israeli offensive, however, and Israeli forces and Abbas's police were on high alert on Friday in case of violence around weekly prayers at mosques around midday.

The U.N. resolution spoke of a ceasefire that was not only "immediate" but also "durable and fully respected" -- language that chimes with Israeli and U.S. demands in those negotiations that Israel secure guarantees that its Hamas Islamist enemies will be unable to rearm by halting smuggling from Egypt.

France, which brokered a ceasefire proposal put forward by Egypt on Tuesday, said the resolution complemented negotiations being mediated by Cairo but made clear it did not expect Israel to act immediately: "It's not the end of the story," foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevalier told the BBC.

"When this will go to what we want ..., a ceasefire and the rest of the package, we don't know."



AIR STRIKES

The Israeli air force hit at least 50 targets across the enclave, including launching pads for rockets and facilities used to manufacture rockets, an army spokesman said.

Israel's military commanders appeared keen to pursue what was termed a third stage of the operation with additional ground troops being sent into the heart of Gaza's built-up areas to flush out more gunmen and to try to secure more gains.

Gaza's Hamas rulers sent mixed signals about the resolution. Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said the group did not recognise the resolution as it had not been consulted. However another spokesman said Hamas was "studying" the resolution.

The resolution, pressed for by Arab countries in the face of efforts by Britain, France and the United States for a more muted statement, called for arrangements to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza and for its borders to be opened.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: "The United States thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation efforts in order to see what this resolution might have been supporting. And that is why we chose to abstain."

The resolution said there should be "unimpeded provision" and distribution of aid to the territory, home to 1.5 million people, many of whom are dependent on food assistance.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which distributes the vast majority of aid in Gaza, kept its operations suspended on Friday after the death of one of its drivers in Israel's offensive. It was not clear when aid distribution would resume.

Hamas officials said the Palestinian death toll had risen to 783, of whom more than a third were children.

The Israeli army said militants fired at least four rockets into Israel on Friday. No injuries or damage were reported.

Israel deployed 3,000 policemen in Jerusalem ahead of Friday prayers in the Old City. Police limited Palestinian access to the prayers to men aged over 55 and women over 50.



ROTTING CORPSES

In Gaza, local ambulance crews and the Red Crescent, using a time slot coordinated with Israeli forces, said they collected rotting corpses in places that had been too risky to reach since Israeli forces began their ground attack six days ago.

Ten soldiers have been killed in the campaign launched by Israel to crush Hamas forces and halt the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. Israel says it is doing what it can to avoid civilian casualties but accuses Hamas of deliberately placing its fighters close to homes and mosques.

Rockets have killed three Israeli civilians since the offensive began. Olmert said Israel's goal had not been achieved and a decision on further military action lay ahead.

Israel has said it accepts the "principles" of a ceasefire proposal by Egypt and the European Union, and Washington has urged the Jewish state to study details of the plan.

Hamas, shunned by the West for espousing violence, said it was still considering the ideas. But the militants say they will never accept Israel, whose establishment amid conflict 60 years ago dispossessed and uprooted Palestinian people.

European governments offered to back the plan with an EU border force to stop Hamas rearming via tunnels from Egypt. The deal would also address Palestinian calls for an end to Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. (Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Sue Pleming at the United Nations and by Jerusalem bureau)





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