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16 Jan, 2009 15:51

Violence escalates in Gaza as ceasefire looms

Israel continues its onslaught on Gaza having bombed forty targets overnight while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon tours the region pleading for peace.

As international pressure intensifies against the attacks on Gaza, the UN chief has also called upon Israel to stop and declare a unilateral ceasefire.

He met with the Israeli defence and foreign ministers. The UN chief says the death toll in Gaza has reached an unbearable point but is confident a ceasefire is near.

“We don't have any more time to lose, we must end the civilians' suffering now,” Ban Ki-moon said.

Meanwhile, an emergency summit of Arab leaders is taking place in the capital of Qatar, Doha.


Leaders of Syria, Algeria, Sudan and Lebanon are taking part, as well as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Senegal’s leader Abdoulaye Wade. Indonesia and Turkey have also sent their representatives to Doha.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is reported to be present at the meeting, while President of the Palestinian Autonomy Mahmoud Abbas has not come.

Hamas say that they are ready to conclude an armistice with Israel for a year if its operation in Gaza is stopped and the Israeli army leaves the area within a week. Hamas representatives also insist on the immediate opening of all crossing points.

Meanwhile, Israel's Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have signed an agreement aimed at preventing arms smuggling into Gaza.

The three-week Israeli military operation in Gaza has already claimed lives of more than 1,100 Palestinians, including 300 children and a hundred women.

The damage to the Palestinian economy is estimated at $US 1.4 billion, according to the report by the Palestinian National Autonomy’s statistics bureau.

The document also says that 20,000 houses have been damaged and 26,000 people have been left homeless.

Meanwhile, the third stage of Israel's ground offensive in Gaza in full swing

The Red Crescent medical compound and a foreign media building were hit in strikes on Thursday. One Red Crescent employee was killed and two cameramen were injured. Meanwhile Israeli tanks and armoured bulldozers are fanning out across Gaza.

Gaza city was aflame on Thursday but many of the media organisations that usually report from there were unable to report upon it. Among the buildings shelled by the Israeli army was the Al Shurouq Tower in Gaza’s city centre.

Inside there were the offices of local and international media – among them RT’s sister organisation Rusiya Al-Yaum. The building was immediately evacuated. Two cameramen from Dubai were wounded.

“Nearly fifty or sixty journalists went downstairs immediately after we received news from the Red Cross about the possibility that the tower might be bombed,” said Saed Suerki, the correspondent from Rusiya Al-Yaum. “But the problem we are facing here is that the first floor which contains the electric generator was set on fire. So it can no longer generate electricity to the tower.”

Not far from the media house another building was also in flames. Israeli shells struck the UN headquarters in what Israel claims was in response to Palestinian militant fire from inside.

Alongside the Hamas fighters were hundreds of refugees, three of whom were injured.

The UN supports and feeds about a million people inside Gaza. Its staff says the situation is out of control. Israel issued a formal apology – but not before tons of food and humanitarian supplies had been destroyed in the fire. A Red Crescent building also went up in flames.

The Israeli officials say that the reason for bombing the building is the tunnels that lie beneath.

“The main problem is that we found tunnels, a lot of underground tunnels moving from these places used by the terrorists of Hamas in order to shoot our soldiers and our citizens in the South,” said the Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Majalli Whbee. “And this is the main problem. And as I told you, we try to do our best not to injure any civilians or any innocent people.”

Two of Hamas most senior officials were also killed Thursday – one of them was the organisation’s Interior Minister. Across the border in Israel, nearly thirty rockets slammed into the south, wounding five people.

Many in Israel feel that the army is using these last few hours or days before a ceasefire is agreed upon to destroy as much of Hamas’s infrastructure as possible.

Protests against Gaza offensive

Some 3,000 people took to the streets of the city of Sidon in Southern Lebanon, among them Palestinian refugees, to protest against Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, police had to use tear gas to disperse groups of protesters.

And in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, hundreds chanted anti-Israeli slogans.

Protesters in Tehran accused the heads of Arab states of ignoring the Israeli onslaught in Gaza.

The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, demanded the Israeli government be tried for war crimes.