Israelis Press Gaza Offensive; Truce Efforts Begin

A wounded Palestinian man is carried to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. i i

hide captionA wounded Palestinian man is carried to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
A wounded Palestinian man is carried to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

A wounded Palestinian man is carried to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Abid Katib/Getty Images

Israeli forces continued to press an air and ground offensive Monday against Hamas in Gaza, as French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in the region to spearhead international efforts to secure a cease-fire.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the military operation, launched last month, would go on until his nation was safe from rocket attacks launched by Hamas fighters from inside the Gaza Strip.

"Hamas has so far sustained a very heavy blow from us, but we have yet to achieve our objective and therefore the operation continues," Barak said.

A statement from the Israeli army said "many dozens" of Hamas fighters had been killed since ground troops breached the Gaza border on Saturday after a week of punishing airstrikes.

Sarkozy, meanwhile, has embarked on a visit that will include stops in Egypt, in the West Bank to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

President Bush said Monday that Israel was justified in protecting itself against Hamas militants.

"I understand Israel's desire to protect itself," Bush said in the Oval Office. "The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas."

"Instead of caring about the people of Gaza, Hamas decided to use Gaza to launch rockets to kill innocent Israelis," he said.

On Sunday, Israeli troops surrounded Gaza City. Further movement into the heart of the built-up areas would mean house-to-house fighting in crowded streets and alleyways familiar to Hamas' 20,000 fighters.

The Israeli military said it had carried out airstrikes overnight. It also said it would allow more aid into Gaza on Monday. Palestinian medical staff and international aid groups said the number of people killed since Israel began its military campaign against Gaza had risen to more than 500, with some 2,000 wounded.

Dr. Eric Fosse of the Norwegian Aid Committee, a humanitarian health care organization, said Gaza City's Shifa hospital had been overwhelmed since the ground attack began.

"We operated [on] people in the corridors. We had people waiting for surgery, lying around the corridors of the hospital, and they were dying before we could come to them," Fosse told NPR.

Militants, defying the attacks, fired 20 rockets at Israel by midday Monday, and Gaza's Hamas strongman urged Palestinians to "crush" the invading Israeli forces and target Israeli civilians.

Hamas has demanded a cessation of Israeli attacks and the opening of vital Gaza-Israel cargo crossings.

Gun battles intensified on Monday in eastern Gaza City, home to 400,000 people.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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