Tue, Nov 07, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israel presses on in Gaza despite criticism

AP , JERUSALEM

Despite Palestinian warnings of shortages of food and water and international criticism of mounting casualties, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged to press a sweep through a Gaza town aimed at stopping rocket attacks.

Forty-eight Palestinians, most of them militants, have been killed in a series of Israeli air strikes and shellings since last week. Israel launched the drive last week to try to put a stop to daily rocket barrages from Gaza at Israeli towns. Israel says most of the rockets are fired from the Beit Hanoun area.

The Vatican and EU complained about the offensive, but Olmert said it was necessary to "considerably reduce the [rocket] fire and prevent terror."

He told his Cabinet on Sunday that Israel has no intention of retaking Gaza after pulling out of the territory a year ago.

"When we reach the conclusion that the effectiveness of the operation is bringing us closer to reaching the goals, we will definitely pull our forces out of Gaza," he said.

Israel said that its attacks are focused on militants who launch the rockets. While most of the dead have been militants, several civilians -- including a four-year-old girl, a 72-year-old man, and two paramedics -- have been killed. Two women who attempted to help a group of militants besieged in a mosque also died.

Yesterday, an air strike hit a minivan parked in the Jebaliya refugee camp in the north, wounding at least seven civilians, six of them children, hospital officials said.

There were conflicting reports on whether a 15-year-old youth was killed in the strike -- the head of emergency services initially reported a fatality, but a spokesman of Gaza City's Shifa Hospital later said he had no report of a death yesterday morning.

On Sunday, about 100 paramedics marched through the streets of Gaza City to protest the deaths of their two 17-year-old colleagues who were killed in an Israeli missile strike last week in Beit Lahiya.

The International Red Cross harshly criticized Israel, saying that the paramedics and their vehicle were clearly marked.

Beit Hanoun residents warned of a burgeoning humanitarian crisis.

"We have electricity, but no drinking water," said one 28-year-old woman, who declined to be identified because of the military presence in town.

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said on Sunday he was worried about the "grave deterioration" in Gaza, and called on all sides to work to stop the bloodshed and immediately resume "direct, serious and concrete negotiations."

In a weekend statement, the EU said: "The right of all states to defend themselves does not justify disproportionate use of violence or actions which are contrary to international humanitarian law."

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