Deadly Israeli raids on schools take Gaza toll to 660
AFP - 1 hour 25 minutes ago
GAZA CITY (AFP) - - Israeli tanks and troops blazed into towns across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday striking Hamas targets, but hits on three UN-run schools killed at least 48 people and sparked urgent new ceasefire calls.
While troops battled Islamist militants along the back alleys of Gaza's main city in the heaviest fighting of the 11-day-old offensive to halt cross-border rocket attacks, Hamas still made its deepest rocket strike yet into Israel.
As the Palestinian death toll hit 660, Arab nations pressed for a UN Security Council resolution condemning the onslaught, but Israel rejected ceasefire calls by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other leaders.
"Europe must open its eyes," President Shimon Peres told an EU ministerial delegation that demanded a truce.
"We are not in the business of public relations or improving our image. We are fighting against terror and we have every right to defend our citizens."
The United Nations demanded an investigation after tank and air assaults hit three schools run by the UN Palestinian relief agency, UNRWA.
At least 43 people who had taken shelter at the Jabaliya refugee camp school in northern Gaza were killed, according to emergency servics. The United Nations confirmed at least 30 dead and 55 wounded after the tank shells hit.
The Israeli military said a preliminary inquiry indicated that a number of mortar rounds may have been fired from the Jabaliya school.
Earlier two people were killed when an artillery shell slammed into a school in the southern city of Khan Yunis. Three people also died in an air strike on another school in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, medics said.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories Maxwell Gaylard said Israel had the GPS coordinates of all UN buildings in Gaza -- including schools.
"Neither homes nor UN shelters are safe" for civilians , he said in a statement which reaffirmed UN ceasefire calls.
He called for an investigation "and if international humanitarian law has been contravened, those responsible must be held accountable."
Heavy fighting raged in Gaza City and around nearby Deir al-Balah and Bureij. One air raid killed 12 people, including seven children, from the same family in Gaza City.
Tanks supported by helicopter gunships rolled into Khan Yunis before dawn, to be met by return fire from Hamas and its allies, witnesses said.
Four Israeli soldiers were killed in two friendly fire incidents during the overnight surge in fighting, the army said. Five have now died since Saturday.
The military said another soldier was killed in a clash near the territory's main city.
It also said that paratroopers shot at the belt of a suicide bomber running towards them to detonate his bomb.
About 35 Hamas rockets were fired over the border, one landing 45 kilometres (28 miles) inside Israel -- the deepest yet -- slightly wounding a baby, it said.
Three civilians and one soldier have been killed by rocket fire inside Israel since the offensive began.
Protests against Israel have spiralled worldwide and the French president led new calls for a truce as he met Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on Monday.
But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reaffirmed that there can be no ceasefire until "terrorist" rocket attacks and weapons smuggling into Gaza are ended.
Sarkozy went to Damascus and Beirut and later returned to Egypt to see President Hosni Mubarak, saying there was a "glimmer of hope" for ending the bloodshed.
Sarkozy said the deaths in the Gaza schools had reinforced his determination to reach a ceasefire. A Hamas delegation also arrived in Cairo.
Egypt brokered a six-month truce that ended on December 19. Hamas refused to renew the deal and started firing rockets, sparking the war.
Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on Hamas on December 27 with a massive air bombardment of Gaza, and sent in thousands of ground troops a week later.
Since then, 660 Palestinians have been killed, including about 200 children , with more than 2,950 wounded, Gaza medics say.
Israel has denied there is a humanitarian crisis, but the International Committee of the Red Cross stepped up pressure on the government with a rare public statement.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we are dealing with a full-blown and major crisis in humanitarian terms. The situation for the people in Gaza is extreme and traumatic," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, ICRC director of operations.
He said ICRC staff in Gaza described the past night as "the most frightening to date" in the territory, where there is no power or water and food rations are severely limited.
The UN Security Council was to meet again on Tuesday to weigh an Arab call for a ceasefire and to protect Palestinian civilians, diplomats said.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to attend the meeting with foreign ministers from the major powers.
Washington has strongly backed Israel, with President George W. Bush saying any truce must ensure an end to militant rocket fire.
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An Israeli army artillery battery fires a smoke bomb into the Gaza Strip from the border. Israeli tanks and troops blazed into towns across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday striking Hamas targets, but hits on three UN-run schools killed at least 48 people and sparked urgent new ceasefire calls.
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