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13 Jan, 2009 12:29

Israeli tanks enter Gaza City

Israeli forces are ploughing into Gaza City and other densely populated Palestinian areas as air and ground attacks against Hamas continue. Reports say some Israeli reservists are already in action in the region.

At least 870 Palestinians have been killed in seventeen days of fighting. Palestinian sources say around half of the victims were civilians.

And with the number of injured civilians estimated at thousands, Russia says it is ready to provide medical assistance to at least one hundred Palestinian children currently stranded in Gaza hospitals.

Russian paediatrician Professor Leonid Roshal says Moscow is ready to help.

With both Israel and Hamas ignoring UN demands for a ceasefire, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has warned of a ‘waterfall of blood’ unless there’s an end to the fighting. Israel says it's close to achieving its goal of stopping militant rocket attacks.

Unwilling to end the campaign now – which could waste the gains made so far – Israel refuses to speak with Hamas, preparing the ground for a third week of violence.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni defended her nation’s actions: “Hamas is a terrorist organisation and needs to be stopped. Hamas controls Gaza strip and what Israel is doing is a fight against terror”, she said.

But a cabinet meeting on Monday revealed the first cracks in the Israeli leadership. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is keen on pushing ahead at all costs, while his Defence and Foreign Ministers would prefer for a ceasefire to be reached sooner rather than later.

However, all three agree that an international mechanism needs to be put in place to secure the Egypt-Gaza border. Israel desperately wants to prevent Hamas from smuggling more arms in through underground tunnels.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the Palestinians relied on the network of passages.

“We admit that tunnels exist, and we also admit that the tunnels are being used to deliver food”, he said.

He insisted that the Palestinians needed them “because Israel has imposed a siege on the Palestinian people; but what is also sure is that Egypt is capable of securing its border, and it is impossible for Hamas to rearm from Egyptian territories,” Gheit said.

At least 16 Palestinians were killed in Israeli attacks on Monday, according to Gaza health officials. Meanwhile, some 15 rockets were fired into Israel by Hamas.

Russia’s special envoy for the Middle East, Aleksandr Sultanov, is in the region trying to get the warring sides to speak to each other.

“I would not like to calculate, who is going to win, who is going to fail. Now we should concentrate our efforts on getting a ceasefire as soon as possible,” Sultanov said.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will arrive in the Middle East on Tuesday in an attempt to bring an end to the crisis in Gaza.

He is due to hold talks with the heads of Egypt, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as the leader of the Palestinian Autonomy – Mahmoud Abbas.

Mosque and orphanage destroyed

According to Saed Suerki of RT’s Arabic service – one of the few journalists inside Gaza – the latest Israeli air raid took place in Rafah city in the south of the Gaza Strip. During the attack various houses and institutions not belonging to security forces or to Hamas were destroyed, including an orphanage and the Al-Fadheela mosque.

Meanwhile, Israel is still sending warning messages through Al-Aqsa channel trying to psychologically influence the citizens of Gaza.

On Saturday wounded Palestinians began arriving in central Gaza – a region without well-equipped hospitals. Local facilities are capable of hosting no more than 54 cases at one time. So medics send the wounded to bigger hospitals elsewhere.

Many of the wounded, especially those from the Khuzaa region, are suffering from skin burns, breathing difficulties, and vomiting.

The group Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of firing artillery shells packed with white phosphorus over populated areas of Gaza.

The group's workers say they witnessed trails of burning smoke after bombardments – which clearly indicate use of white phosphorus.

The human rights activists claim that Israel uses phosphorus smoke screens to hide military operations.

The incendiary agent sparks vast fires and causes serious burns if it touches the skin.To use it is especially dangerous in Gaza, where the density of population is one of the highest in the world.

The organisation called on Israel to stop using the weapons.

Meanwhile, Israeli deputy foreign minister Majalli Waabee said that Israel only uses weapons allowed under international law.

“We don’t use any forbidden weapon against civilians,” he said.

He added that most of the Palestinian casualties are because “terrorists use these people as shields.”

Humanitarian crisis deepens

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) resumed its activities after receiving security pledge from Israel.

After being targeted by Israeli forces in recent days, UNRWA has received assurances that its institutions, trucks, and personnel will not be targeted by Israeli forces in the future and that it will be allowed to distribute humanitarian aid without hindrance.

However, the difficulty of providing aid relief in the midst of Israeli shelling from tanks, fighter jets and war boats remains a problem for aid workers.

And while UNRAWA is receiving medical and food supplies from the border crossings, the job of distributing it in a war zone remains a serious problem, threatening the lives of aid workers.

According to Saed Suerki of RT’s Arabic service, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza region remains dire.

“I would like to give you a picture of one house called Beitul-Daraj,” Saed Suerki says. “We at Rusiya Al-Yaum channel received phone calls from 33 Palestinians who were besieged by Israeli soldiers at a house in Beitul-Daraj. These people were not allowed to make any movement in this house whose area does not exceed three and a half meters. For three days, people downstairs begged the Israeli soldiers to go up and bring food for their children, but the Israeli soldiers refused.”