9 Palestinians killed in Gaza

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community on Wednesday to “halt Israeli aggression” after nine Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops.

“We ask the international community to halt Israeli aggression,” Abbas said in a statement after UN chief Kofi Annan earlier demanded an immediate end to the Israeli offensive in Gaza where more than 200 people have been killed in two months.

Eight died in the Shejaiya neighbourhood of Gaza City, where Israeli soldiers have been operating since late Saturday in the latest thrust of a wider assault designed to retrieve a captured soldier and fight fighters.

They included a 14-year-old boy shot in the chest, two men in their 30s also shot and five others who died from tank fire, medical officials said.

Abbas “vigorously denounced Israeli aggression in the occupied territories, in particular in the Shejaiya quarter” of Gaza City, the statement said.

Israel’s operation on Wednesday was part of a two-month Israeli offensive in the increasingly lawless territory that has targeted fighters but killed scores of civilians and left Gaza plagued with power shortages after its power plant was bombed.

Although Palestinian medical sources said most of those killed on Wednesday were civilians, the Israeli army said its troops only opened fire in response to attacks, admitting that forces were coming under heavy attack.

“I know of four different incidents in which gunmen either fired anti-tank missiles or they were approaching the forces,” a spokeswoman told AFP.

She said troops were operating in Shejaiya to “destroy terror infrastructure” and that everything the military did in the Gaza Strip is to create the right conditions for the return of Corporal Gilad Shalit.

Wednesday’s deaths bring to 19 the number of Palestinians killed in Shejaiya since Israeli tanks and troops rolled in on Saturday.

At least 204 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier have been killed in Gaza since June 28, when Israel launched its offensive to stop rocket attacks and recover the missing Shalit, captured three days earlier.

Annan, in the West Bank on the third leg of a major Middle East tour, called for Israel to stop its offensive, “all incursions” and its closure on Gaza, and demanded Palestinian fighters stop firing rockets into Israel.

“Two-hundred Palestinians have been killed since the end of June,” Annan told a news conference with Abbas in Ramallah.

“This must stop immediately,” he said. “The closure of Gaza must be lifted, the crossing points must be opened.” He also called for a “cessation” of the Qassam rockets fired by fighters, and for Israel to release Palestinian parliamentarians and officials from the Hamas-led government arrested in the West Bank in late June.

“The creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel is the key to solving the problems in this troubled region,” he said.

Abbas, whose moderate Fateh Party is working towards a possible national unity government with the governing Islamist party Hamas, warned there could be no security until Israel ends its occupation and a Palestinian state emerges.

“Continued occupation of the Arab and Palestinian territories will not achieve peace,” he said.

The Palestinian leader earlier renewed calls for fighters to stop firing rockets into Israel, warning that such missiles were sowing “death and destruction” for the Palestinians.

Five Israelis have died as a result of homemade rockets fired from Gaza since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000, with most of the missiles causing property damage or landing in open spaces.

Back in Gaza, the Israeli army said it had discovered a large tunnel, 13 metres  deep and 150 metres long, running from a house in Shejaiya towards the Karni crossing with Israel, and released photographs.

“The tunnel was meant to be used for an attack on the terminal,” a spokesman said, adding that planned strikes were the reason why the export-import terminal between Gaza and Israel had been closed in recent months.

In the occupied West Bank, Hossam Jaradat, the head of the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad faction, died from wounds sustained during an Israeli commando operation on August 23.

Jaradat, whom Israel held responsible for numerous attacks against the Jewish state, suffered head wounds and had been in critical condition.

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