Israel pounded the Gaza Strip for a 15th straight day yesterday and militants from Hamas fired rockets back at Israel, both sides defying international efforts to put a stop to the conflict.
Eight Palestinians were killed by an Israeli tank shell in Jabalya in the north of the Gaza Strip and an air strike on a house in nearby Beit Lahiya killed a woman, Palestinian medics said.
Hamas rockets hit the town of Ashkelon, about 20km north of Gaza, wounding two Israelis.
Concerned about the deepening impact of the war on Gaza’s 1.5 million people, more than half of whom depend on food assistance, the UN said it was hoping to resume full aid distribution yesterday after receiving Israeli assurances that its staff would not be harmed.
Despite a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and Egyptian-European mediation efforts, Israel appeared set on pressing on with its offensive, which it says is to stop Hamas rocket fire. In response, Hamas fired more rockets.
Continuing a policy of recent days, however, Israel was scheduled to cease operations between 1pm and 4pm yesterday to allow humanitarian aid to be distributed throughout Gaza.
At least two tank shells hit northern Gaza immediately after the truce window opened, residents said.
Medical officials in the Gaza Strip said the Palestinian death toll had risen to 795, of whom more than a third were children, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said.
Thirteen Israelis have been killed — 10 soldiers and three civilians hit by Hamas rocket fire.
Hamas fired around a dozen rockets into Israel yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets warning residents that it plans to escalate its two-week-old offensive.
The army says it has dropped the fliers throughout Gaza. It says the notices are meant as a “general warning.”
The notice says Israel is about to begin a “new phase in the war on terror.”
Elsewhere, in an attempt to breath life into an Egyptian-led mediation effort, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party is a political foe of Hamas, met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for talks in Cairo.
They discussed the possible deployment of international forces along the Gaza-Egypt border under any ceasefire deal, but Abbas said they should be in Gaza itself.
Privately, diplomats believe the Egyptian initiative, also sponsored by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is in trouble, even if Israel has said talks will continue.
“There is a growing sense that the Egyptian-French plan is not going to work,” a senior European diplomat said.
Also See: Malaysians protest Gaza attacks