BREAKING: Israeli ground forces storm Gaza
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Published: Saturday January 3, 2009


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Gaza death toll passes 500: medics

GAZA CITY (AFP) At least 500 Palestinians have died in Israel's nine-day offensive on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, medics said on Sunday.

"The number of martyrs has reached at least 500, including 87 children, and more than 2,450 have been wounded," Moawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza medical emergency services, told AFP.

"The number of the dead can be much higher, since there are many martyrs and wounded in the streets, but we have not been able to get to them," he said.

Israel hit by 32 Gaza rockets: army

JERUSALEM (AFP) Militants in the Gaza Strip fired at least 32 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel on Sunday, lightly wounding three people as Israeli troops pushed deeper into the Palestinian territory, the army and medics said.

One of the rockets scored a direct hit on a house in the southern town of Sderot, lightly wounding one woman. The town, which lies several kilometres (miles) from the Gaza border, has borne the brunt of the rocket fire since 2001.

Medics also treated another two people who were lightly wounded -- one in the Israeli port city of Ashdod and another in kibbutz Nir Oz.

At least 12 of the missiles were longer-range Grad rockets, which fell near Ashdod, and the towns of Ofaqim and Netivot which are both east of Gaza, the army said.

Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 500 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel since the beginning of the Jewish state's massive offensive on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on December 27, killing four people and wounding several dozen others, according to Israeli officials.

At least 30 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel's ground offensive began on Saturday.

In total, more than 485 Palestinians have died since Israel began its offensive against Gaza on December 27.

Fierce fighting brings first casualties of new offensive

GAZA CITY (AFP) Invading Israeli ground forces fought fierce battles with Hamas on Sunday in the beginning of Israel's new offensive in Gaza.

A burning fuel depot lit up the night sky soon after troops crossed the border at around 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Saturday, while warplanes swooped on dozens of targets in the biggest Israeli military operation since the 2006 Lebanon war.

Israeli tanks supported by helicopter gunships were battling around Gaza City and in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, while Hamas fighters fired back with mortars and rockets, witnesses said.

An Israeli military spokesman said dozens of Hamas fighters were killed in the initial battles, while the Islamist group's television said Israeli soldiers had also been killed.

There was no independent confirmation of the claims.

Gaza emergency services said one child was killed and 11 others wounded in one tank attack.

War over Gaza begins

GAZA CITY (AFP) Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza late Saturday and troops clashed with Hamas fighters in a step-up to an eight-day offensive that has killed hundreds of Palestinians and caused widespread destruction.

A burning fuel depot lit up the night sky soon after tanks and troops crossed the border and the air force carried out more raids in the biggest Israeli military operation since its 2006 war in Lebanon.

Dozens of Hamas fighters were killed in the initial battles, an Israeli military spokesman said.

Update: Hamas responds


Hamas vowed on Saturday to turn the Gaza Strip into a "cemetery" for the Israeli army, which launched a ground offensive in the enclave following a week of air and naval bombardment.

CNN reports:

"'We will defeat the army just like they were defeated before,' Abu Thaer, spokesman for the military wing of Fatah -- the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- told the television network Al Jazeera.

"'We will rub their noses in the sand. To the Arabs of 1948, today it is the time to act, to carry martyrdom operations in the heart of Israel. In case they will get in really on the ground, they will be taught a lesson that they will never forget. The Israeli army is the loser from ground operations in Gaza.

"'They claim that the Palestinian resistance was hit, but we say that the resistance will not be defeated, and we will not receive them with roses. We will receive them with bombs and that will not stop, God willing,' Thaer said."

Update: 'We have many, many targets'


The Associated Press reports:

Israeli tanks and infantry entered Gaza after nightfall Saturday, launching a ground offensive that the military said would be a "lengthy operation" in a widening war on Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Israeli security officials said the operation is likely to go on for several days, but that the objective is not to reoccupy Gaza. The depth and intensity will also depend on parallel diplomatic efforts, the officials on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.

"We have many, many targets," Israeli military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich told CNN, adding that Hamas has been digging smuggling tunnels and other facilities. "To my estimation, it will be a lengthy operation," she said.

"The goal is to try and take over some of the those launching areas that were responsible for the many launches, thousands of launches in fact, toward Israeli civilians," she said. "The civilians are not our target. We are looking only after militants. Hamas militants."

Update: the invasion has begun


JERUSALEM (AFP) Israeli ground troops have entered the Gaza Strip, an army spokesman told AFP on Saturday a week after the Jewish state launched its massive offensive on Hamas targets in the enclave.

"I can confirm that Israeli troops have gone in," she said.

Witnesses inside Gaza Strip said soldiers had entered the territory in the north.

DEVELOPING...


'Dramatic escalation' in Gaza as tanks 'moving toward the frontier'


GAZA CITY (AFP) Israeli artillery on Saturday bombarded the Gaza Strip in a dramatic escalation of the campaign against Hamas after a week of air attacks which have left more than 440 Palestinians dead.

Israeli tanks were seen moving toward the frontier as Howitzer guns fired dozens of shells across the border. AFP correspondents saw huge plumes of black smoke rise on the Gaza side.

The Israeli army made no immediate comment on the operation which came amid mounting speculation that Israel would send troops into Gaza.

With thousands of troops and tanks massed at the frontier, Israeli air strikes earlier killed a Hamas military commander and destroyed a school as the military campaign against rockets fired from Gaza entered a second week.

Israeli radio warned the public that rocket attacks could intensify in "coming hours".

Israel has staged more than 750 air raids against Hamas leaders and military targets since launching "Operation Cast Lead" on December 27. At least 442 Palestinians have been killed -- including 75 children -- and 2,290 wounded, according to Gaza medics.

Four people have been killed in Israeli by more than 500 rockets fired from Gaza over the same time.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal warned Israel on Friday of a "black destiny" if it invaded. But US leaders have given their key Middle East ally free rein to begin a ground operation, again blaming Hamas for the new conflict.

More than 30 air raids on Saturday hit Hamas targets across the densely populated territory.

One strike killed Mohammad al-Jammal, who Gaza sources said was a Hamas military commander. Israel said he was responsible "for the entire rocket launching enterprise in all of Gaza City."

Jammal's death came two days after an air raid killed top Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan.

Another raid demolished a school in northern Gaza and killed a guard there. Israel said its warplanes had targeted "a college used as a base for firing a large number of rockets."

Two people were killed when a strike hit their car in the southern city of Khan Yunis, medics said.

The Israeli strikes have so far failed in their declared aim of ending rocket fire from Gaza and there is mounting concern over the humanitarian impact of the Israeli operation.

Maxwell Gaylard, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said on Friday "there is a critical emergency in the Gaza Strip right now. By any definition this is a humanitarian crisis and more."

About 80 percent of the 1.5 million population relies on international food aid .

But the United States has given fresh backing to Israel, insisting that the key to a truce is Israel's demand that Hamas stop firing rockets.

In his weekly Saturday radio address, the text of which was released by the White House, President George W. Bush called on Hamas "to turn away from terror, and to support legitimate Palestinian leaders working for peace."

Bush blamed Hamas for the violence and rejected calls for a unilateral ceasefire that he said would allow the Islamists to continue targeting Israel with rocket and mortar fire.

Thousands of Israeli troops with tanks have been waiting along the 60-kilometre (37-mile) border with Gaza for the green light from the government to advance.

Amid new diplomatic efforts to halt the fighting, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to meet French President counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy in Ramallah on Monday. He was then to travel to New York to appeal for a ceasefire at the UN Security Council.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday met Iran's Supreme National Security Council chief Saeed Jalili to discuss the Gaza crisis, Syria's official SANA news agency reported.

Jalili also met the exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdullah Shallah on Friday, a Palestinian source said.

In a televised speech on Friday night, Meshaal warned Israel: "If you commit the stupidity of launching a ground offensive then a black destiny awaits you."

The week of Israeli strikes has destroyed Hamas government buildings, the homes of senior Islamist officials, mosques, schools and other buildings said to have stored weapons, and roads and tunnels used to smuggle arms and supplies.

Israel has kept the territory virtually sealed since Hamas seized power there in June 2007 from Fatah forces loyal to the secular Abbas.

With wire reports

 
 


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