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2 Jan, 2009 12:27

First foreigners evacuated from Gaza

Israel is allowing foreigners and Palestinian holders of foreign passports to flee from the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.

A representative of the Israeli military administration Major Peter Lerner said that around 90 people from Turkey, the United States and Norway had already gone from through the Erez checkpoint from Gaza to Israel. About 300 foreigners are expected to be evacuated on Friday.

Two planes from Russia's Emergencies Ministry have arrived to meet the evacuees in Jordan after they cross the border from Gaza into Israel. A total of 183 people, half of whom are Russians and the rest from other CIS countries, have come to the checkpoint.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces are poised to launch a ground offensive in the next stage of their assault on Gaza. Israel has been attacking Hamas targets in Gaza for six days now.

On Thursday, one airstrike killed a senior Hamas leader – Nizar Rayan – in his home. He was believed to have close ties with the group's military wing.

Palestinian officials say more than 400 people have been killed in the raids, while more than 1,700 have been injured.

Gaza's neighbours show their support

People across the Middle East are showing their support for Gaza and have begun protesting against the Israeli attacks in the region.

In the Iranian capital Tehran, as well as in other Iranian cities, hardline religious students held a march against the Israeli offensive.

They filed into the former U.S. embassy in Tehran and burned posters of U.S., Israeli, Egyptian and Saudi leaders.

A series of anti-Israeli actions follow a religious decree by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which stated that anyone killed while defending Palestinians in Gaza would be considered a martyr.

In Ramallah, hundreds marched through the streets in support of their fellow Palestinians.

The marchers have called on Israel to end the attacks on Gaza.

There has been strong support in the Fatah-run Palestinian territories for the citizens of Gaza, even though rivaling Hamas is the main political faction in Gaza.

Pro-Gaza demonstrators gathered outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for a candlelight vigil.

They placed hundreds of candles on the ground to spell out the word “Gaza” in both English and Arabic.

The protestors said they wanted to highlight the difference in the way the New Year was being marked in Gaza to the rest of the world.