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Monday, 3 March 2008

We won't let up, defiant Israel tells world as 100 die in Gaza

DAILY MAIL : 3 March 2008

By MATTHEW KALMAN

Israel defied international condemnation yesterday and threatened to
step up the Gaza offensive that has so far claimed 100 lives.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his cabinet: "Let it be clear that
Israel has no intention to stop the fighting for a single moment."

He spoke as the unrest spread from Gaza to the West Bank and
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas suspended contact with Israel.

Yesterday a 21-month-old girl was among at least ten Palestinians
killed. It followed more than 60 deaths on Saturday, one of the
bloodiest days in Gaza since the 1980s.

Although many of the dead were Hamas fighters, at least three women
and nine children died in Gaza on Saturday.

Israel said it was acting in self-defence to curb daily rocket attacks
from the Gaza Strip.

It threatened to intensify its ground and air campaign, despite a UN
charge it was using excessive force.


Gaza fighting

Referring to the rockets, Mr Olmert warned: "If anyone is under the
illusion that extending their range will cause us to limit our
operations, that's a serious mistake."

However, Palestinian Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the militants, said
an invasion of Gaza would not halt the rockets.

More than 25 were fired at southern Israel yesterday, scoring direct
hits on houses in Ashkelon and the town of Sderot. Nine Israelis were
slightly wounded.

"The tough Israeli attacks will only make the militants stronger and
increase their determination not to stop rocket attacks," Mr Mujahed
said in Gaza City.

Across the border Ashkelon's mayor Roni Mahatzri said he was willing
to sacrifice his residents' sense of security for the short term, but
would not accept the rockets becoming a normal reality.

"This is a state of war, I know no other definition for it," said Roni
Mahatzri, from his makeshift office in an underground bunker.

"We have no intention of allowing this to become part of our daily routine."

The areas used by the militants to fire rockets have seen fierce
battles between Israeli troops backed by tanks and Palestinian gunmen
who have laid ambushes for them. Two Israeli soldiers died in the
fighting on Saturday.

Many of the Palestinian civilian casualties have occurred when Israeli
missiles fired by helicopters, jets and unmanned drones have hit
buildings and homes that the army said were used by militants.

Israeli leaders said they did not want to stage a full-scale invasion
of the Gaza Strip, but defence minister Ehud Barak said a broad ground
operation was "real and tangible". He warned: "We won't shy from it."

Other officials said another option was a major strike on the
leadership of Hamas, which took control of Gaza last summer from the
more moderate Fatah faction.

Violent protests against Israel's action spread to the West Bank and
East Jerusalem. A boy of 13 was shot dead as he tried to cut down a
security fence in Hebron.

Earlier yesterday UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the
Israelis for using excessive force but called the rocket attacks "acts
of terrorism".

The EU and the Pope also called for an end to the fighting.

Though Palestinian president Mr Abbas called off peace talks with
Israel, he stopped short of declaring dead the U.S.-brokered talks
which are opposed by hardliners Hamas.

He later spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and urged
her to put pressure on Israel.

A spokesman for Miss Rice confirmed she would go ahead with a visit
this week when she will meet Mr Abbas and Mr Olmert.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary David Miliband called on both sides to
"step back from the brink".

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