day 3 as israeli air strike looms

ENOUGH: Women take part in an anti-Israeli protest in Sanaa yesterday. The poster say: 'Relieve Gaza'. 29/12/2008. Pic. Khaled Abdullah.  ©  Reuters.
ENOUGH: Women take part in an anti-Israeli protest in Sanaa yesterday. The poster say: 'Relieve Gaza'. 29/12/2008. Pic. Khaled Abdullah. © Reuters.

GAZA - Israeli aircraft attacked Hamas targets in Gaza yesterday, the third day of an offensive that has killed more than 300 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

GAZA - Israeli aircraft attacked Hamas targets in Gaza yesterday, the third day of an offensive that has killed more than 300 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said at least 57 of the dead were civilians.

Hamas defied the strongest assault against Palestinian militants in decades by launching a rocket attack on Israel that killed one person, the second such fatality since Saturday.

An Israeli air raid flattened a building in the heart of a residential area in Gaza and five people were wounded. It was not immediately clear why the structure, which was apparently empty, was targeted.

Israel declared areas around Gaza a "closed military zone", citing the risk from Palestinian rocket fire, and ordered journalists observing a build-up of armoured forces to leave.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, said the military action, launched after a six-month ceasefire expired, would go on until the population in southern Israel "no longer live in terror and in fear of constant rocket barrages".

World oil prices rose to nearly $40 (about R400) a barrel as analysts said the conflict reminded traders of the geopolitical risk to crude supplies from the Middle East.

The Israeli military said a Palestinian stabbed three Israelis in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba in the West Bank before he was shot by a passerby and arrested.

The Gaza offensive has enraged Arabs across the Middle East.

Hamas said 180 of its members had been killed and that the rest of the more than 300 dead included civilians, among them 16 women and some children.

Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurie said US-backed peace talks with Israel have been put on hold .

The UN Security Council called for a halt to the violence, but US President George W Bush's administration, in its final weeks in office, has put the onus on Hamas to renew the truce.

A senior Israeli official dismissed any suggestion that Israel had acted now because it believed a window of opportunity was closing with Barack Obama preparing to enter the White House.

"A far more important date for Israel is February 10," the official said, referring to the Israeli parliamentary election. - Reuters

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