A severely injured Palestinian man is carried moments after being hit in an Israeli missile strike in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, on Thursday.

Palestinians gather around the ruins of the Al-Noor Mosque following an Israeli airstrike in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood of Gaza City on Thursday.

UN relief agency halts aid to Gaza, citing Israeli attacks on staff


A United Nations aid agency is halting all aid deliveries to the besieged Gaza Strip because of Israeli attacks on UN staff and installations, a spokesperson for the agency said Thursday.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said it will suspend aid shipments until staff safety can be guaranteed.

"UNRWA decided to suspend all its operations in the Gaza Strip because of the increasing hostile actions against its premises and personnel," said Adnan Abu Hasna, a Gaza-based UN spokesman, according to Reuters.

The announcement came shortly after Hasna said Israeli forces fired on a truck on a UN aid mission, killing the driver, during what was supposed to be a three-hour lull Thursday in the fight to allow aid to enter Gaza.

The attack occurred despite the fact that the UN had co-ordinated the delivery with Israel and that the vehicle was marked with a UN flag and insignia when it was shot at in northern Gaza, Hasna said. The Israeli army said it is investigating the incident.

'This is a shocking incident'

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is accusing Israel of failing to fulfil its obligation to assist injured civilians in the Palestinian territory, which has been under attack since Israel launched an offensive against militant group Hamas on Dec. 27.

The accusations were made after Red Cross medical teams discovered four young children huddled around 12 bodies inside a shelled house. The ICRC said in a statement that its aid workers were told by Israeli Defence Forces to leave the area, where more than a dozen other wounded Palestinians were languishing in bombed houses.

Large earth walls erected by the Israeli army had made it impossible to bring ambulances into the neighbourhood, according to the statement.

"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, ICRC head for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation, but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

The Israeli army said any serious allegations would be properly investigated once a formal complaint was received, according to Reuters.

Death toll approaches 700

The Palestinian death toll since the Israeli assault began has now reached nearly 700, including some 350 civilians, according to Gaza medical officials and UN estimates. More than 3,000 Palestinians have been injured, according to the Associated Press. Ten Israelis, including three civilians, have been also been killed.

"I feel like the ground is shaking when we hear the shelling. People are terrified," said Fida Kishta, a resident of the Gaza-Egypt border area where Israeli planes have destroyed 16 empty houses.

Israel temporarily halted attacks on the Palestinian territory for a second day in a row later Thursday to allow Gaza residents to stock up on humanitarian supplies, and to allow aid to enter the embattled region.

The brief lull occurred several hours after rockets fired from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Thursday, the first time the Jewish state has come under fire from its northern neighbour since the offensive began.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said at least three rockets fell around the town of Nahariya, about eight kilometres south of the Lebanese border, striking a nursing home and wounding two people.

Israel's army fired five artillery shells back at Lebanon, an Israeli military spokesperson said, in "a pinpoint response at the source of fire."

It was not immediately clear who was behind the rocket attacks from Lebanon, but similar launches from Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon were a hallmark of the 34-day conflict in 2006 between Israel and the militant and political group.

Both Israeli and Lebanese officials have said they don't believe the attack was launched by Hezbollah.

Graziano urges 'maximum restraint'

Lebanon and Israel must exercise "maximum restraint" in the aftermath of the attack, the commander of UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) in Lebanon, Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano, said via a spokesman for the peacekeeping force, according to Reuters.

UNIFIL is also working to determine who launched the attacks and has deployed additional troops to the Lebanese-Israeli border, said spokesman Neeraj Singh.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora condemned the rocket attacks, as well as Israel's response, in a statement issued Thursday, saying the strike from south Lebanon was designed to undermine stability.

The attacks came after Israel's military launched more air strikes early Thursday in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, even as talks were expected to begin in Cairo over an Egyptian-French ceasefire proposal.

Palestinians reported up to 60 air strikes around Gaza overnight, in which at least five people were killed.

Explosions were heard from southern Gaza, according to media reports from the Israel-Gaza border, while Arab television station Al Jazeera reported 15 people were injured in a nighttime strike at a mosque.

There were also reports of clashes between Israeli armoured forces and Hamas militants in southern Gaza. Israel has barred foreign journalists from entering Gaza, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of the situation in the coastal territory.

In Nahariya, one of the rockets fired from Lebanon penetrated the roof of a retirement home and exploded in the kitchen as about 25 residents were eating breakfast in the next room. One resident suffered a broken leg and another some bruising after slipping on the floor when the emergency sprinklers turned on.

"The rocket entered through the roof, hurling the water heaters into the air. It went through bedrooms upstairs and then into the kitchen. There was a serious blast," said Henry Carmelli, the home's manager.

Later reported barrage a false alarm

Lebanese security forces told Reuters that between three and five rockets had been fired into Israel. Later reports that a second barrage of rockets had struck northern Israel appear to have been a false alarm caused by the sonic boom from an aircraft.

Lebanese authorities are trying to determine who launched the rockets across the border, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Additional Lebanese troops were also being deployed to the border with Israel.

Lebanon's Information Minister Tareq Mitri said on Thursday he did not believe Hezbollah was behind the rocket attack.

"Hezbollah assured the Lebanese government that it remains engaged in preserving the stability in Lebanon and respects Security Council Resolution 1701," the head of Mitri's office, Toufic Yannieh, quoted the minister as saying, according to Reuters.

Resolution 1701 ended the 34-day conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

Israel, which has repeatedly said it is preparing for an attack in the north, has mobilized thousands of reserve troops and warned Hezbollah that it is prepared to retaliate.

Israeli cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit, however, agreed the attack was likely carried out by a small Islamic group and not Hezbollah.

"Even though we have the ability to respond with great force, the response needs to be carefully considered and responsible," Sheetrit told Army Radio. "We don't need to play into their hands."

Israeli envoy to arrive in Cairo

Late Wednesday, Egypt's UN ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, said his country would host separate talks with delegations from Israel, Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which is not directly involved in the conflict.

Israeli Defence Ministry official Amos Gilad arrived in Cairo on Thursday morning to hear more about the truce proposal.

The plan, introduced by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, calls for an immediate ceasefire, an end to rocket attacks on Israel, the opening of Gaza border crossings and an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza from neighbouring Egypt.

Israel has said that it accepts the principles of the proposal but that it needs guarantees Hamas will not rearm during the ceasefire period. Hamas has said it wants border crossings into Gaza reopened.

In Turkey, a Mideast diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly said that country would be asked to put together an international force that could help maintain peace.

Israel launched its military campaign with a series of air strikes on Dec. 27, followed by a ground incursion by thousands of its troops into Gaza, in response to the resumption of Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel. The rocket attacks restarted shortly after a six-month truce between the two sides expired.

Hamas took power in Gaza in June 2007 after overrunning Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in fierce fighting. The battles led Abbas to dissolve a coalition government between Fatah and Hamas that was created after Hamas's victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Many Gazans are living without electricity or running water, and thousands have been displaced from their homes. Hospitals are overcrowded, and the UN is urging that patients be allowed to be taken out of Gaza.

The World Bank has warned that fuel and electricity shortages have shut down almost all sewage pumps in Gaza, raising the possibility of a health crisis.

Well.... now they're deliberatly attacking UN Aid convoys, they're walling in neighborhoods so help can't come to those suffering, and now they're bragging about how they're willing to go after Lebanon again. Obviously Israel is showing their true face.

"Even though we have the ability to respond with great force, the response needs to be carefully considered and responsible,"

^ What a joke.