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Middle East

Israel debates truce but continues firing on Gaza

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-01-17 Latest update 2009-01-17 11:12 TU

A Palestinian woman searches the rubble at the al-Abrar mosque after Israeli air strikes in Rafah.(Photo: AFP)

A Palestinian woman searches the rubble at the al-Abrar mosque after Israeli air strikes in Rafah.
(Photo: AFP)

As Israel’s Security Cabinet meets to discuss a unilateral ceasefire, its troops continue to bombard the Gaza Strip. A woman and a child were killed in a strike on a UN-run school, according to medical personnel, while three other Palestinians were reported dead elsewhere early on Saturday morning.

The woman and a child were killed when the Israelis hit a UN-run school in the northern town of Beit Lahiya where civilians had taken refuge from clashes between Israeli ground troops and Palestinian fighters, the medics say.

Elsewhere a two-year-old baby and three other people were killed. Israel carried out about 50 raids on targets its army says are tunnels, rocket-launchers and suspected weapons stores, including two mosques.

At least 55 Palestinians were killed on Friday, including at least ten people who died when a tank shell hit their house. The deaths bring the toll in Operation Cast Lead to at least 1,188 Palestinians, including 410 children, and 5,285 wounded, while on the Israeli side ten soldiers and three civilians have been killed in combat or in rocket strikes.

The Security Cabinet is expected to announce a unilateral ceasefire this evening. Since the beginning of the operation, there have been different tendencies amongst its ranks.  Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has to deal with the diplomatic fallout, was reported to favour a more limited operation than Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and several other ministers.

The Israelis are reported to be happy with an agreement with the US to police the Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt. They say that it is a transit point for arms to Palestinian fighters.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told Arab leaders meeting in Doha on Friday that his Islamist movement would not accept a ceasefire, that did not provide for a full Israeli pullout and the opening of Gaza’s borders, including that with Egypt.

The Israelis say they will keep troops in Gaza but expect Hamas to hold its fire if they do.

On Friday the UN General Assembly called for an immediate truce, with 142 votes in favour, six against, eight declared abstentions. Israel, the US and Nauru refused to cast votes.

After hours of negotiation, a reference to Israel as "the occupying power" in Gaza was dropped and a sentence calling for the protection of the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations inserted.

Israel, backed by the US, had tried to prevent the vote on the grounds that the resolution was "one-sided" and "procedurally flawed”.