Humanitarian efforts fall victim to fierce fighting

WITH Israeli troops now in control of many of the open areas used by militants to launch rockets, gunman have continued shooting from inside populated neighbourhoods.

Heavy clashes were reported late yesterday afternoon in the north-east of Gaza City as Israeli troops advanced under the cover of Apache helicopters firing machine guns.

Fares Alwan, 49, said he was eating with his family when their house came under fire. “I took my kids and wife and started running away for cover,” said Alwan.

“We saw wounded people in the street while we were running.”

The conflict has left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza increasingly desperate for food, water, fuel and medical assistance, and the situation was expected to worsen as humanitarian efforts fall victim to the fighting.

One of the dead on Thursday was a Ukrainian woman, the first foreigner to die in the fighting, according to Gaza health ministry official, Dr Moaiya Hassanain.

He said the woman was married to a Palestinian doctor who trained in Ukraine and returned with her to Gaza. Her two-year-old son was also killed in the tank shelling east of Gaza City, said Dr Hassanain.

Details are emerging of other incidents in which civilians were killed. A UN agency said Israeli troops evacuated Palestinian civilians to a house in Gaza City on January 4, then shelled the building 24 hours later, killing 30 people.

The UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs report was based on eyewitness’ testimony.

The UN agency said 110 people were in the house. The 30 people reported killed is a far higher figure than in other accounts.

The Israeli military had no comment on the report yesterday.

Israeli police said a Palestinian man armed with an axe chased after people in the central Israeli town of Rehovot yesterday, slightly injuring at least one person. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police officers subdued the man and were questioning him.

The West Bank saw its biggest protests so far yesterday, as thousands took to the streets following Friday prayers to express their anger at the Israeli offensive.

Tens of thousands of people attended protests in Alexandria, Egypt, the Jordanian capital of Amman and Baghdad.

The Libyan state news agency reported that President Moammar Gadhafi has called on Arabs to allow volunteers to fight the Israelis in Gaza. The one-sentence call was posted on Libya’s JANA news agency.

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