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Published: Friday, 1/9/2009

Israel, Hamas defy UN call for cease-fire

ASSOCIATED PRESS

JERUSALEM Israeli jets and helicopters bombarded Gaza on Friday and Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets on at least two cities as both sides defied a U.N. call for an immediate cease-fire.

One Israeli airstrike killed two Hamas militants and another unidentified man, while another flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza, killing at least seven people, including an infant, Hamas officials said. Israeli aircraft struck more than 30 targets before dawn, and there were constant explosions after first light.

By afternoon, 23 Palestinians had been killed, pushing the death toll to 777 in the two-week-old conflict, according to Gaza health officials who say at least half of those killed were civilians. Thirteen Israelis have also been killed.

The United Nations kept its aid deliveries on hold Friday because of security concerns, but Palestinians who risked going to Gaza relief centers could still receive food and medicine.

The World Food Program and UNICEF said they are not moving any supplies into or around Gaza, and the international Red Cross restricted its activity to Gaza City a day after it issued a rare public criticism accusing Israel of blocking access to wounded Palestinians.

U.N. officials said they would begin moving aid around Gaza again if they receive credible security guarantees from Israel.

Agencies stressed they were still operating in the Palestinian territory where 1 million people about two-thirds of the population are without electricity and 750,000 are without running water, according to the United Nations.

Despite harsh criticism from international aid groups, Israel has said it is doing everything it can to facilitate humanitarian work, citing the three-hour pauses in fighting it agreed to during the last three days, including Friday. Humanitarian workers say the lulls are inadequate.

A U.N. Security Council resolution approved Thursday night called urgently for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. The U.S., Israel s closest ally and a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, abstained.

While the call is tantamount to a demand on the parties, Israel s troops won t be required to pull out of Gaza until there is a durable cease-fire. The resolution calls on U.N. member states to intensify efforts to provide guarantees in Gaza to sustain a lasting truce, including prevention of illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition.

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

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



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