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WAR REPORT
Three Israelis, 3 militants killed as Gaza violence rages
by Staff Writers
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) Nov 15, 2012


Gaza conflict adds tension to Palestinian UN bid
United Nations (AFP) Nov 15, 2012 - Israel's air strikes on the Gaza Strip have heightened the tensions surrounding the Palestinian bid for observer membership at the United Nations planned for later this month.

The Palestinian UN envoy said Wednesday's attack -- which killed the top Hamas military commander in the territory -- was deliberately timed to torpedo the UN vote in two weeks and influence Israel's general election in January.

Israel's UN ambassador retorted that events in Gaza had shown the futility of the Palestinian campaign for international recognition.

"They should change their request from a Non-Member State to Non-Member Terrorist State," said ambassador Ron Prosor.

The United States and Israel are lobbying furiously against the Palestinian bid, which president Mahmud Abbas is scheduled to put to the UN General Assembly on November 29.

Abbas has had no control over Gaza since 2007, when the Islamist Hamas seized power from his Fatah faction in a week of street battles, cleaving the Palestinians into hostile rival camps.

The new military strikes on Gaza, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to expand, come as the United Nations and many key players warn that time is running out to establish a Palestinian state.

The US and Israeli governments say there can be no Palestinian state without direct peace talks that have been deadlocked for more than two years.

The Palestinians refuse talks while Israel expands its settlements in the occupied territories. Abbas has said, however, that he would return to talks if the UN vote is successful.

The United States is talking with Palestinian officials in a bid to at least delay the vote, UN diplomats said.

"The Gaza strikes will complicate negotiations around the Palestinian application even more," one Western official said on condition of anonymity.

The Europeans are pressing Abbas to delay the UN move until after Israel's election and President Barack Obama's inauguration in January, in order to give the US administration more time to prepare a new peace bid, diplomats said.

"The Palestinians are doing this because they are frustrated. They believe they have nothing to lose going for it now, so they will not change it unless the United States has something to offer," said one Middle East diplomat.

US Ambassador Susan Rice, who strongly defended Israel's military strikes at an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, said rocket attacks by Gaza militants are harming efforts to end the Middle East conflict.

"Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that does nothing but set back the Palestinian cause," said Rice, a frontrunner to be the next secretary of state.

The Israeli ambassador meanwhile warned the Security Council meeting that Palestinian success at the United Nations could lead to more violence.

"The false idol of virtual statehood will change nothing on the ground, raising expectations that cannot be met," he said.

"The state that they envision includes Gaza -- that means it includes Hamas. The Palestinian leadership is marching down a road that can only lead to more conflict, instability, and violence."

Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour questioned why Israel is fighting so hard against the UN vote if it believes the bid is meaningless, saying Israeli leaders are "dead afraid" of Palestinian admission to the General Assembly.

"I believe part of the timing of the attack by the Israelis on Gaza is trying to divert attention away from our energies in mobilizing the international community" for the UN vote, he said.

Warplanes pounded Gaza for a second day Thursday as three Israelis and three Palestinians were killed in fierce fighting which began with Israel's targeted killing of a top Hamas chief.

Israel's harshest assault on the Palestinian territory in four years, which comes as the Jewish state heads towards general elections, prompted an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council amid growing international concern.

Police said that since Israel's targeted killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jaabari on Wednesday afternoon, militants have fired around 180 rockets over the border, one of which hit a house on Thursday morning, killing three Israelis and injuring another four.

And the Israeli air force has pounded Gaza with more than 100 air strikes, killing 11 and injuring at least 115, medics and Hamas officials said.

"We have three killed," Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP, saying four other people were also injured in a "direct hit on a house" in Kiryat Malachi, a town which lies 30 kilometres (18 miles) northeast of the Gaza Strip.

The attack on Kiryat Malachi was claimed by Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades in a statement on its website.

Israeli police said they had raised the level of alert across the entire country in order to deal with "the possibility of terror attacks" in response to Israel's killing of the Hamas chief.

"All the major cities in southern Israel were hit, and the majority of the more serious damage was in Beersheva," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Schools within a 40 kilometre (24 miles) of Gaza were closed, and those living within seven kilometres (four miles) of the strip had been told not to go to work, he said. "It's a pretty serious situation."

An AFP correspondent close to the Gaza border saw several Israeli jets flying south as well as convoys of military jeeps and at least two flatbed trucks carrying armoured bulldozers.

In Gaza, Palestinian medics said three Hamas militants were killed in an early strike near the southern city of Khan Yunis, raising to 11 the number of Palestinians killed since the hit on Jaabari at around 1400 GMT on Wednesday.

"Eleven people have been killed and 115 people injured," he told AFP.

Throughout the morning, further air strikes hit northern Gaza, Gaza City and east of Khan Yunis, injuring another three, medics and security sources told AFP.

Among the dead were five Hamas militants, two children, a woman and an elderly man, he said. The identities of the other two were not immediately clear.

The violence sparked a furious response from Egypt's Islamist administration, which has close ties with Gaza's ruling Hamas movement, with Cairo recalling its ambassador in protest at the Israeli operation.

Israel has said the strikes were only "the beginning" of an offensive targeting Gaza militants and warned it may expand its activity, with the army saying if necessary it was "ready to initiate a ground operation."

"If it becomes necessary, we are prepared to expand the operation," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Wednesday evening, several hours after the start of Operation Pillar of Defence.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the operation was to strengthen Israel's deterrence, damage militant groups' rocket-firing capabilities and stamp out attacks on Israel.

Jaabari's death sparked fury in Gaza, with Hamas's armed wing warning saying that by killing its leader Israel had "opened the gates of hell on itself."

And Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said the strike was tantamount to a "declaration of war."

In New York, the UN Security Council held an emergency 90-minute session to discuss the crisis, with Arab states pushing for a strong condemnation, but the US envoy strongly defending Israel's right to self-defence in the face of Palestinian rocket fire.

Amid fears of a regional flareup over the confrontation, US President Barack Obama and UN chief Ban Ki-moon both phoned Netanyahu and Morsi in a bid to de-escalate the conflict.

Britain urged restraint and Russia said it was "very concerned."

The air strikes capped five days of rising tension in and around Gaza, which saw Israel kill seven Palestinians and militants fire more than 120 rockets over the border, injuring eight.

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