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Middle East

Gaza death toll rises over 300, at least 51 civilians killed, says UN

Article published on the 2008-12-29 Latest update 2008-12-29 11:57 TU

A Palestinian man looks at a destroyed building of the Islamic University(Photo: Reuters)

A Palestinian man looks at a destroyed building of the Islamic University
(Photo: Reuters)

At least 51 civilians are among the 312-plus people killed by Israeli air-raids on the Gaza Strip, according the UN refugee agency, UNRWA. The Israeli army on Monday declared areas near Gaza a closed military zone, with roads closed except to residents. Israeli tanks are massed at the border.

"We have been compiling a list of civilian casualties from medical and hospital sources," said Christopher Gunness for the UNRWA. "We have 51 confirmed civilian casualties, including women and children."

By Monday mid-morning, the bombardment had cost 312 Palestinian lives and wounded more than 1,400, according to Gaza emergency services chief Moawiya Hassanein.

An Israeli-Arab civilian was reported killed by Palestinian rocket-fire in the city of Ashkelon on Monday, after another Israeli civilian death on Sunday.

As Israel declared border areas a closed military zone, a move which usually precedes a ground operation in Gaza, Defence Minster Ehud Barak promised to avoid hitting civilians "as much as possible" but promised to deal "a heavy blow to Hamas".

"We have nothing against Gaza residents, but we are engaged in an all-out war against Hamas and its proxies," Barak said. "This operation will expand and deepen as much as needed. We went to war to deal a heavy blow to Hamas, to change the situation in the south."

Barak said that civilian casualties take place because "Hamas and other terrorists deliberately hide and operate within the civilian population".

Israel on Monday allowed about 80 trucks loaded with medicine and food to pass into Gaza.

Turkey on Monday called an end to efforts to organise peace talks between Israel and Syria, which had already pulled out of the process because of the Gaza attacks.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan announced the move after meeting his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Gheit in Ankara.

Muslim nations have condemned the offensive, with demonstrations in Iran, Iraq, Indonesia and other countries. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that he "deplores that violence is continuing today".

Saudi Arabia on Monday sent two hospital aircraft to evacuate severely injured patients to Saudi hospitals.