Israel ignores rising calls for Gaza cease-fire
GAZA CITY, Gaza — Israel ignored mounting international calls for a cease-fire Monday and said it won’t stop its crippling 10-day assault until “peace and tranquillity” are achieved in southern Israeli towns in the line of Palestinian rocket fire. Three Israeli soldiers died in a friendly fire incident.
Israeli forces seized control of high-rise buildings and attacked smuggling tunnels and several mosques in a campaign against Hamas militants that took an increasing toll on civilians. Three young brothers were reported killed during shelling. Palestinian wounded filled hospital corridors.
Arab delegates met with the U.N. Security Council in New York on Monday, urging members to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate end to the Israeli attacks and a permanent cease-fire.
At the same time, diplomats and European leaders traveled the region in an effort to stop Israel’s expanding ground and air offensive.
In the first serious clash in an urban area, Israeli troops and Hamas militants fought a gunbattle on the outskirts of the crowded Gaza City neighborhood of Shajaiyeh, Israeli defense officials said. Details also emerged of an unsuccessful attempt by Hamas fighters to capture Israeli soldiers hours after the ground operation began Saturday with a withering round of artillery fire.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu told Israeli TV the assault was going according to plan with forces sweeping through Palestinian rocket-launching locations near the border.
Later, the Israeli military said three soldiers were killed and 24 others wounded Monday evening by friendly fire. It said an errant Israeli tank shell hit their position outside Gaza City, adding that initial suspicions that a Hamas booby-trap caused the casualties were ruled out.
Israel Radio reported a colonel who commanded an infantry brigade was among the injured.
Despite Israeli claims that casualties have been heavy among militants, no Hamas fighters were seen Monday by an Associated Press reporter at Shifa Hospital, the Gaza Strip’s largest.
Instead, the hospital was overwhelmed with civilians. Bodies were two to a morgue drawer, and the wounded were being treated in hallways because beds were full.
Gaza health officials reported that since the campaign began Dec. 27, more than 550 Palestinians have been killed and 2,500 wounded, including 200 civilians. U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters in New York on Monday that U.N. officials believe at least 500 people have been killed in the fighting and that as many as 25 percent are civilians. At least 20 Palestinian children were killed during the day, said Dr. Moaiya Hassanain, a health official. Most confirmed deaths have been civilians.
In Shajaiyeh, troops seized control of three six-story buildings on the outskirts, climbing to rooftop gun and observation positions, Israeli defense officials said. Residents were locked in their rooms and soldiers took away their cell phones, a neighbor said, quoting a relative who called before his phone was seized.