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Europe

Gaza in Throes of Humanitarian Crisis, Says Red Cross

As the international community says that Israel's image is suffering, Red Cross officials called the last 24 hours the most terrifying night yet of violence in Gaza.

Israeli soldier against the EU flag

Israel's image is being destroyed, said one EU official

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the International Committee of the Red Cross' head of operation, said on Tuesday, Jan. 6, that the military offensive against Palestinian rocket squads launched by Israel in late December has left up to 600 dead and as many as 3000 injured in Gaza so far.

Many Gazans have been left without electricity or running water, thousands have been displaced from their homes and residents say food supplies are running thin.

Death toll rising

Meanwhile, three soldiers were killed and 24 injured overnight by friendly fire, the Israeli military confirmed Tuesday morning.

An Israeli tank fired a shell by mistake at a building in which the soldiers had taken cover during fighting with armed Palestinians, a military spokeswoman said. One of the injured soldiers was in critical conditions and three others in serious condition, she said.

The incident came a week after Israel unleashed a massive air and naval bombing campaign against Hamas targets in Gaza aiming to stop rocket fire, and occurred as fighting between the Israeli troops and local fighters of the Islamic Hamas movement intensified after darkness on Monday.

According to Israeli media, Israeli tanks firing cannons and machine guns and supported by helicopter gunships for the first time advanced into populated areas in the southern Gaza Strip and destroyed several houses, while the Palestinian fighters confronted them with mortar shells.

The Israeli army claimed Tuesday that it has killed 130 Hamas fighters since Saturday, while Hamas resumed its artillery attacks in the morning, firing at least three rockets into the southern Israeli Eshkol region.

Israel's image

The European Union Troika, consisting of Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwarzenberg; Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferraro-Waldner, also met with Peres in Jerusalem Tuesday morning -- only for Peres to blast European efforts to seek a halt to the Gaza conflict.

Israel was not worried about its international image, his office said.

"Europe must open its eyes. We are not in the business of public relations or improving our image. We are fighting against terror, and we have every right to defend our citizens," the Nobel Peace Prize winning leader told an EU ministerial delegation.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferraro-Waldner told Peres that "Israel's image is being destroyed" because of its refusal to listen to international ceasefire appeals, the president's office said in a statement.

Peres said Israel was "fighting a comprehensive war against murderous terror, which is of Iran's making. None of the European countries would tolerate rocket fire on their citizens, and they must understand that Hamas is a terrorist organization of the worst order that uses its population of women and children as human shields," the president said.

Conditions for ceasefire

Faced with increasing international calls for a Gaza ceasefire, Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that a ceasefire would only be possible if there were firm commitments to a stop to rocket attacks and to the smuggling of weapons into Gaza from Egypt.

In remarks reported by Israeli radio, Olmert said Israel was not under any illusion that there would be no Israeli casualties in the military incursion in Gaza targeting the radical Islamist Hamas.

Olmert also said he knew there would be protests from the international community against the military incursion. But Israel could no longer accept the steady barrage of rockets being fired at its border areas, he insisted.

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