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Casualties Mount as Fighting in Gaza Escalates


Fighting escalated in Gaza a day after an Israeli ground offensive into the Palestinian territory. Israel confirms one of its soldiers has been killed and 30 wounded, and medical officials in Gaza say more than 30 Palestinians have been killed since the invasion began. According to tallies by medical officials in Gaza the Palestinian death toll from nine days of Israeli military operations now tops 500, with the number of injured at more than 2,000

Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants throughout parts of the Gaza Strip as troops fanned out, tanks moved into position and war planes and naval vessels continued to bombard their targets.

Much of the action appeared to focus on the northern part of Gaza, amid reports that Israeli troops had encircled Gaza City, had positioned tanks at the former Israeli settlement of Nezarim and had effectively cut the territory in two between north and south.

The Israeli military said its war planes targeted more than 15 sites throughout the day, including rocket-launching areas, armed gunmen, smuggling tunnels and several specific Hamas militants.

In Gaza City, Palestinian journalist Mohammed Dawwas spends part of his day going out to get food, checking on his own apartment and then joining his family at his father in law's home on the edge of Gaza City, where they hope it is safer to be.

"What you hear is bombs," said Mohammed Dawwas. "We sit here together all night. A lot of people here in one room because it is much better than being alone. It is really very tough. We have no power, no electricity, nothing whatsoever, no gas, no water. It is really crazy here."

Aid officials continue to warn of a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and medical officials say casualty figures are rising, mostly among civilians.

Israeli Government spokesman Mark Regev says the military operation is not against the people of Gaza, but against Hamas militants who threaten southern Israel.

"Our sole military goal is to safeguard the people of southern Irael so that one million people no longer have to be on the receiving end of Hamas rockets," said Regev.

Israel says it had no choice but to launch military action after talks with Hamas on extending a cease-fire broke down in December and militants stepped up rocket fire against southern Israel. But militants fired more than 30 rockets into southern Israel during the day.

Israel initially launched air strikes just more than a week ago, pounding targets it said were linked to Hamas and its infrastructure in Gaza.

But, Hamas has remained defiant, warning that it would turn Gaza into a graveyard for the Israelis. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has described the Israeli offensive as "brutal aggression."

According to tallies by medical officials in Gaza the Palestinian death toll from nine days of Israeli military operations now tops 500, with the number of injured at more than 2,000.

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