ISRAEL carries on raid

TEL AVIV - Israel pressed on with its air and ground assault in Gaza, rebuffing yesterday an international push for an end to hostilities that includes another UN Security Council emergency session scheduled for later in the day.

TEL AVIV - Israel pressed on with its air and ground assault in Gaza, rebuffing yesterday an international push for an end to hostilities that includes another UN Security Council emergency session scheduled for later in the day.

At least 22 Palestinians were killed since midnight, raising the total Palestinian toll to about 573 killed and 2600 wounded since the Israeli offensive got under way on December 27, Gaza emergency services chief Mo'aweye Hassenein said. At least a quarter of the dead are civilians, according to UN staff on the ground.

The UN agency caring for Palestinian refugees, Unwra, "strongly protested" an Israeli hit of its elementary school in western Gaza City, in which more than 400 people from the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya had taken shelter.

Three civilians were killed as they left the school toilet, an Unwra spokesman said.

Five Israeli soldiers have been killed since Israel on Saturday expanded the offensive by sending in ground troops. Three were killed late on Monday when an Israeli tank erroneously shelled a house on the outskirts of northern Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp, in which the troops had taken cover from Hamas' firing mortar shells. Another 24 Israeli soldiers were injured.

Hamas' armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, said it had set a "trap" for the soldiers.

Israeli ground troops, meanwhile, continued to encircle Gaza City and were operating on its southern, eastern and northern outskirts, as well as on the eastern outskirts of Jabaliya, a crowded refugee camp in the north, and of Khan Younis in the south.

Heavy fighting took place in those areas, with Qassam Brigades saying it was confronting Israeli soldiers with anti-tank missiles, roadside bombs and "face to face" exchanges of fire.

A Palestinian militant leader denied reports that the ground troops had advanced into populated areas, saying they were still occupying largely open areas.

An Israeli military spokesman said the purpose of the ground invasion was to arrest and question Hamas fighters, find and destroy Hamas "infrastructure" - rocket storage sites - and hold territory from where Hamas have been launching rockets into Israel.

Soldiers have detained and questioned dozens of suspected militants, she said, adding some were taken to Israel and some were questioned in Gaza.

Hamas fired more than 40 rockets into Israel on Monday and at least 10 yesterday morning. - Sapa-dpa

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