Gaza hopes die under barrage from both sides

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The Independent Online

Israel and Hamas responded to a UN peace demand by hammering away at each other with bombs, shells and rockets today.

Ignoring international pleas for the fighting in Gaza to cease, Israel continued its air attacks and the Palestinian militants kept up their missile barrages.

The Palestinian death toll for the two-week conflict rose to 777, many of them children. Thirteen Israelis have also been killed.

Overnight the UN Security Council had approved a resolution calling urgently for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. The US, Israel's closest ally, abstained from the vote.

In Israel's first official response to the resolution, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said the Hamas rockets fired at Israel today "only prove that the UN's decision is not practical and will not be kept in practice by the Palestinian murder organisations."

A Hamas spokesman said the Islamic militant group "is not interested" in the ceasefire because it was not consulted and the resolution did not meet its minimum demands.

He said the UN failed to consider the interests of the Palestinian people.

"This resolution doesn't mean that the war is over," he said.

Israel's government says any ceasefire must guarantee an end to rocket fire and arms smuggling into Gaza.

Hamas has said it will not accept any agreement that does not include the full opening of Gaza's blockaded border crossings. Israel is unlikely to agree to that demand, as it would allow Hamas to strengthen its hold on the territory which it violently seized in June 2007.

Unable to ensure the safety of its workers, the United Nations continued to withhold its aid deliveries today and the World Food Programme and Unicef said they were not moving any supplies into or around Gaza.

The Red Cross restricted its activity to Gaza City, where a surgical team assisted medics at the main hospital, Shifa.

Despite harsh criticism from international aid groups, Israel has said it is doing everything it can to help humanitarian work, citing the three-hour pauses in fighting it agreed to during the last three days.

In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an independent war crimes investigation in Gaza after reports that Israeli forces shelled a house full of Palestinian civilians, killing 30 people.

The UN said Israeli troops evacuated Palestinian civilians to a house in the Zeitoun district on January 4, then shelled the building 24 hours later.

The UN said 110 people were in the house, according to evidence from four witnesses.

An Israeli military spokeswoman cited alleged inaccuracies in the report on the house shelling and said it had not been confirmed.

"We don't warn people to go to other buildings, this is not something we do," she said. "We don't know this case, we don't know that we attacked it."

Tens of thousands of people condemned Israel's offensive in protests in Alexandria, Egypt, the Jordanian capital of Amman and Baghdad.

The Libyan state news agency reported that President Mummar Gaddafi 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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