Gaza Fighting Continues Despite U.N. Resolution

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Israel says its Gaza military offensive will continue despite a U.N. call for a cease-fire. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution Thursday night calling for an "immediate" and "durable" cease-fire in Gaza. A spokesman for Hamas says the group had not been consulted on the cease-fire.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution last night calling for a, quote, "immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire" in the Gaza Strip. But there's more fighting today. The Israelis carried out a new round of airstrikes overnight, and Hamas launched more rockets into Israel. Aid groups said their workers were trying to help civilians in Gaza when they came under Israeli fire. Those aid groups are now suspending operations in the territory. Joining us with the latest is NPR's Eric Westervelt, who's in Jerusalem. Good morning, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: It seems as if the UN resolution has done really nothing at the moment to change the situation on the ground. Is that the case?

WESTERVELT: That's exactly right. Fighting continues; Israeli officials have had no immediate reaction to this UN vote, but we see by the reactions of the military on the ground that they've kept up their attack. The Israeli Air Force say fighter jets overnight hit several targets and some again early today. The Palestinian death toll continues to rise, and Hamas leaders said through a spokesman today they didn't recognize the UN resolution and hadn't been consulted about it. And they kept fighting as well, Renee. Hamas militants fired several Katyusha rockets at Be'er Sheva this morning, as well as several smaller Qassam rockets at Ashkelon, Ashdod and other cities. So, you know, the fighting continues, and the UN resolution appears to have no impact whatsoever.

MONTAGNE: Well, talking about those aid groups, the UN says it suspended all aid operations in Gaza, after one of its drivers was killed by Israeli tank fire. The Red Cross has protested Israeli actions. What's the latest on those aid groups?

WESTERVELT: Well, exactly. The UN - it's not just the UN and the Red Cross; several nongovernmental aid agencies say the Israeli military has blocked efforts to deliver aid and ongoing efforts on the ground to try to treat the wounded and retrieve the dead. The Red Cross, in a very strongly worded statement, accused Israel of failing to meet its obligation under international law to allow for the evacuation of the wounded. The Red Cross, in particular, Renee, is reporting some horrific scenes involving civilians caught in the combat areas. The agency says they found four children starving next to their mother's corpse and talked about wounded civilians who had to go several days without treatment. The UN, for the second time this week, is calling for an investigation after one of their drivers was killed by tank fire. This is the second time this week; they called for, earlier, an investigation into a shelling of a UN school in which more than 40 civilians were killed.

MONTAGNE: And amidst those stories of civilian deaths in Gaza, we're also hearing of three Israeli soldiers killed by Hamas fire yesterday. Now, the Israeli army appears to be at something of a crossroads as to whether it should push deeper into urban Gaza or, alternatively, pull back.

WESTERVELT: That's right. Israeli forces are fighting on the edges, Renee, especially in the east and in the north of Gaza City, but they have not yet pushed deeper into the city. And commentators here are saying the military really now has to decide quickly whether to push in deeper or to pull back. Some of the troops, we're told, are on relatively static positions, which can create easy targets for militants. Three Israeli soldiers, as we said, were killed yesterday, and aside from a friendly-fire incident earlier in the week, it was the Israeli military's deadliest day since the fighting began. One soldier was killed by Hamas sniper fire, we were told; another by an anti-tank rocket. And Hamas fighters, it appears, want to try to draw the Israeli forces deeper into these dense, urban areas, where they believe the Israeli heavy armor and superior firepower is simply less of an advantage.

MONTAGNE: Eric, we just have a few seconds here, but where should we be looking on the diplomatic front?

WESTERVELT: Well, Egypt's been trying to play a key role in efforts to stop the fighting, but it appears talks in Cairo have made no real progress, and as we said, the UN resolution as well has not made progress. So, it's really unclear right now where to look for - next for diplomatic progress.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Eric Westervelt speaking to us from Jerusalem.

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Despite U.N. Truce Call, Israel Vows To Fight On

Israel said Friday it will press ahead in an offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza, despite a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire.

The office of Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the U.N. resolution "not practical" and said the military "will continue acting to protect Israeli citizens and will carry out the missions it was given."

Israel's words were accompanied by military action on the ground, as its warplanes and helicopters bombarded Gaza Friday and Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets.

The U.N. resolution, passed by a vote of 14-0, with the United States abstaining, stresses "the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza."

It gave impetus to a joint Egyptian-French push for cease-fire talks, proposed earlier this week.

That plan calls for an immediate cease-fire, followed by the opening of Gaza's borders to humanitarian aid, and then longer-term talks aimed at a broader peace between Israel and all Palestinian factions. The Egyptians have said a full opening of the Gaza border could come once European observers and Palestinian Authority representatives were in place to monitor the crossings.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the resolution but said Washington had abstained from the vote because it was important to first see the outcome of Egypt's mediation efforts.

"We decided that this resolution, the text of which we support, the goals of which we support and the objectives that we fully support, should indeed be allowed to go forward," Rice said. "I believe [that] in doing so, the council has developed a road map for a sustainable, durable peace in Gaza.

"We require principled resolution of the situation in Gaza, and the Security Council resolution we are passing tonight in fact gives us a basis with which to do this," she added.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he still thinks the Security Council's resolution spoke loudly and clearly. He said the job now is to turn the "good words" in the resolution into desperately needed changes on the ground.

However, Arab critics, especially those in Syria, have attacked the Egyptian plan as handing Israel an end to Palestinian rocket fire but denying Hamas an immediate full opening of Gaza's borders.

For its part, Hamas showed little interest in the U.N. resolution. Mousa Abu Marzook, one of Hamas' top figures in Damascus, told Al Jazeera English satellite television that Hamas would cease its rocket attacks only after Israel stopped its offensive.

"If the Israelis stopped the fire and their aggression against the Palestinians in Gaza Strip, Hamas should answer directly about the United Nations resolution," Marzook said.

Hamas is sending a delegation to Cairo Saturday to participate in talks with Egypt. But Hamas, which is the effective government of Gaza, seems to be in no hurry to sign onto a cease-fire because, Marzook suggested, it is winning just by continuing the rocket attacks.

More than 800 Palestinians have lost their lives in the fighting, with 3,300 wounded. At least 14 Israelis, mostly soldiers, have died.

Over the past 24 hours, information has emerged about a deadly incident in the town of Zeitoun, south of Gaza City. Several days ago, the Israeli Defense Force ordered more than a 100 people into a single building there, according to Allegra Pacheco of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The house was shelled the next day and about 30 people, including several children, were killed, Pacheco said, citing eyewitness accounts.

Several other buildings were demolished in Zeitoun with up to 40 people killed. Scores were trapped in the rubble. Rescuers finally got to them Thursday, according to Iyad Nasr, of the Gaza Red Cross.

"We managed to rescue 105 civilians — women, children, men — who were trapped in a house for more than a week with hardly sufficient amounts of water and food," Nasr said.

The Red Cross was not permitted to drive its vehicles into Zeitoun, where it says its trucks have come under Israeli fire. Two contractors delivering aid for the U.N. were killed Thursday and the driver of a Red Cross truck was injured.

The Israeli military said it is closely cooperating with international aid groups to assist civilians caught in the crossfire.

"The Israel Defense Forces are engaged in a battle with the Hamas terrorist organization that has deliberately used Palestinian civilians as human shields," a military statement said. "The IDF in no way intentionally targets civilians and has demonstrated its willingness to abort operations to save civilian lives and to risk injury in order to assist innocent civilians."

Across the Arab and Muslim worlds, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets Friday in anger at Israel, the United States and pro-American Arab governments. Record crowds turned out in Egypt and Libya, but there were also protests in Europe. In Amman, Jordan, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse stone-throwing protesters marching on the Israeli Embassy.

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