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Middle East

Deadliest day in Gaza history

Article published on the 2008-12-28 Latest update 2008-12-29 10:50 TU

A wounded Palestinian man is carried to hospital.(Photo: Reuters)

A wounded Palestinian man is carried to hospital.
(Photo: Reuters)

Israeli warplanes continued to bomb the Gaza Strip overnight, bringing the death toll to 280 in 24 hours – the most deaths in a single day since the Israeli occupation began in 1967. Hamas ordered additional rocket fire even as Israel threatened a land invasion of the war-torn region.

More than 230 targets, mostly police and government structures, have been struck in Gaza, according to the Israeli army, leaving more than 700 wounded in addition to the dead.

Meanwhile, at least 90 rockets have been fired by Hamas militants into Israel, killing one person in Netivot yesterday, and today striking Ashdod, located 38 km from Gaza - the deepest they have ever struck inside Israel, Israeli media said.

The United Nations Security Council passed an emergency motion after only five hours of debate – an unusually rapid response – calling on both sides to cease hostilities. The motion, drafted by non-permanent member Libya, reminded all players of the terrible humanitarian situation in the area and called for borders to be opened to allow aid to get to the victims.

Gaza, which already suffers shortages in food, fuel and medical supplies because its borders are routinely closed by Israel and Egypt, is overwhelmed by the scale of the damage.

But Egypt says that Hamas won’t evacuate injured for treatment. Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit told the press that the Rafah border crossing is open and that emergency forces are waiting for the injured to arrive.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum says that they were not informed that the border had been opened and went on to denounce “the opening of Rafah for carbonised corpses while the passage of the living and of medicine for the living in Gaza is blocked”.

The United States and France have called for an immediate ceasefire, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner saying that both sides’ civilian populations “have passed their limits”.

“The Egyptians are capable of restarting the peace process, we must help them,” Kouchner said. “The Syrians have no interest in seeing the region catch fire,” he added.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is in Egypt to discuss efforts for a renewed truce between Hamas and Israel. Egypt helped broker the six-month ceasefire that ended last week.

Gheit said that the Arab League would hold an emergency session in Cairo Wednesday and attempt to negotiate a new peace.

Meanwhile in Damascus, tens of thousands of people marched in protest at the “Israeli aggression” and the “silence” of Arab nations faced with this affront. Other protests occurred across the Arab world, from Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen.

Prospects for a quick solution to the conflict look slim as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak mobilised thousands of military reservists in preparation for a possible ground offensive.