Israeli forges ahead with Rafah offensive despite UN call for halt

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The Independent Online

Israeli troops killed five Palestinian militants in Gaza early today, hours after the army pledged to forge ahead with an offensive despite harsh international criticism of a deadly attack on a Palestinian demonstration.

Brigadier General Ruth Yaron, the army's chief spokeswoman, said that the offensive — the largest in Gaza in years — would continue until it had obliterated weapons-smuggling tunnels and rounded up militants along the Gaza-Egypt border.

Today, an Israeli missile strike killed three militants in the Rafah refugee camp; the army said the gunmen were approaching Israeli forces. Hours later troops fired a tank shell and killed two militants near the border, said Palestinian doctors.

Meanwhile the UN Security Council criticised the Israeli operation in Gaza that has killed dozens of people, and demanded that Israel stop destroying Palestinian homes. This follows yesterday's assault on demonstrators that left at least eight people dead, most of them children and teenagers.

The Security Council's resolution required the tacit support of the United States, which abstained to reflect its displeasure over the incursion. The US delegation usually vetoes resolutions critical of the Jewish state.

The US Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham said the United States couldn't vote for the resolution because it didn't address the Palestinians' efforts to smuggle weapons into Gaza through tunnels in the Rafah refugee camp and its failure to put an end to terrorist activity against Israel.

Mr Cunningham said: "While we believe that Israel has the right to act to defend itself and its citizens, we do not see that its operations in Gaza in the last few days serve the purposes of peace and security." he said.

Israel apologised for yesterday's deaths, but blamed Palestinians for allowing gunmen to mix with civilians. Since Israel launched its operation early Tuesday, 39 Palestinians, including several children, have been killed. Dozens have been wounded, and refugee camp residents have been dealing with power outages and lack of water.

Israel raided the refugee camp less than a week after Palestinian militants killed 13 soldiers in Gaza, seven of them along the Egyptian border.