Gaza offensive intensifies

All but three of those killed in the operation have been Palestinians.

Two members of the armed Palestinian radical group Hamas have reportedly been seriously injured in the most recent strike by an Israeli helicopter gunship in Gaza.

The violence has been the bloodiest in the Gaza Strip since the start of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, four years ago.

Ten Palestinians have been killed in the latest fighting, six of them gunmen from militant groups.

Another three were teenagers shot dead in crossfire between two separate operations being carried out in the northern Gaza refugee camp of Jabaliya.

One victim was a Palestinian deaf-mute man.

Israeli army chief Moshe Ya’alon has reportedly said the offensive, dubbed Operation Days of Penitence, could last for several more weeks.

The Palestinian cabinet has declared a state of emergency and in an emergency session MPs were asked to mull over a proposal to divert one day’s salary to help victims of the Israeli military raids.

“The absence of international reaction is encouraging Ariel Sharon to assert that the operation will continue, although the situation is getting worse,” Mr Erakat said, criticising world leaders for not speaking out against the operation.

However, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has stepped in, calling on Israel to end the assault and for the Palestinians to stop the rocket launches on Jewish settlements.

But Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath told reporters that most of the rockets aimed at Jewish settlements were fired from areas the Palestinian Authority no longer controls.

“The Israelis have destroyed most of our security forces both in Gaza and the West Bank,” Mr Sha’ath said.

“It’s illegal to have a Palestinian policeman dressed officially and carrying a pistol, he’d be arrested immediately. Israel has done all of that and then claims that we are not able to stop the attacks against it when it is occupation, and in full attack against our people,” Mr Sha’ath added.

Egypt and France have joined Spain, Switzerland, Canada and the International Committee of the Red Cross in condemning Israel’s military offensive.

The 22-member Arab League has said it would make a joint appeal at the United Nations for urgent action to halt what it called Israel’s “continuing war of extermination against the Palestinian people.”

The United States has refrained from criticising Israel, saying only that “proportional force” should be used and civilian casualties should be avoided.

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