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Israel Warns Residents Along Gaza-Egypt Border of Air Strikes

By VOA News
07 January 2009

Israeli aircraft have dropped leaflets over Rafah in southern Gaza, warning people to leave the border city before air strikes are launched.

Rafah has the only crossing between the Palestinian territory and Egypt, but it is largely closed. It also has an extensive network of illegal tunnels into Egypt, used by Hamas militants as well as civilians to smuggle supplies.

The Israeli military has targeted those tunnels in its air strikes in previous days.

The Israelis stopped their attacks for three hours Wednesday to allow a "humanitarian corridor" into beleaguered Gaza, and to allow residents to stock up on vital goods. Hamas also stopped firing rockets at Israel during the pause.

Israeli officials said they will consider further temporary ceasefires in the coming days.

The United Nations World Food Program welcomed Israel's decision to hold off on attacks, but also said the brief halt is not enough to address the humanitarian crisis.

Concerns are mounting about drastic shortages of food, water and medicine in Gaza. Israel also has faced strong international criticism for civilian casualties during its 12-day offensive in the densely populated territory.

The Israeli military said it hit 40 Hamas targets overnight Tuesday with air strikes and artillery fire. Gaza health officials say the latest strikes killed at least eight people. The international aid group, CARE, said one of its workers died in one of the strikes.

Hamas rockets also hit southern Israel, but no casualties were reported.

On Tuesday, Israeli shelling killed some 40 Palestinians at a U.N.-run school in Gaza, where hundreds of civilians were taking refuge. Israel said its shelling at the school was in response to mortar fire from within the premises, and it accused Hamas militants of using schools, mosques and other civilian places to hide.

Mourners Wednesday attended open-air funerals during the three-hour lull in fighting to bury those killed in the air strike on the school.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it is unacceptable that the strikes would happen near U.N. facilities, and U.N. officials have demanded an investigation.

Israel's massive air and ground assault has killed more than 670 Palestinians. The United Nations estimates that one quarter of the victims were civilians, including many children. Some 2,500 people have been wounded.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society says 100 children had been killed as of Tuesday.

Dozens of doctors are gathered on the Egyptian side of the border with Rafah, but have been frustrated in their attempts to get to and help the wounded.

The U.S. State Department today issued a warning urging Americans, including journalists and aid workers, to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip. It also banned all U.S. government travel within Gaza and 30 kilometers near the territory.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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