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World

Israel Remains Opposed to Ceasefire in Gaza

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reiterated her government's rejection of a ceasefire with Hamas militants during meetings with French officials, after a day of heavy fighting and new casualties in the Gaza Strip.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, center, takes leave of Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni following their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris

Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, right, met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Livni's visit to Paris on Thursday was overshadowed from the start by an Israeli rejection of a call by the European Union for a 48-hour truce in the hostilities. Israel argued that it is the victim of terrorist attacks.

Also during the visit to France, Livni told French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that there was no need for a ceasefire for humanitarian reasons as there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

After meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Livni told reporters that Israel is bringing about change in the Gaza Strip by attacking militants and providing support to centrists.

She added that Sarkozy understood the situation.

Germany asks Israel to consider Arab proposals

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier appealed on Thursday to Israel to respond "constructively" to Arab League efforts for a halt in the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Smoke rises from a building in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip,

Israeli air strikes have caused considerable damage in Gaza

He telephoned Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to voice "his great concern about the continuation of the fighting," his office said in Berlin.

He told her the fighting endangered progress to date in the Middle East peace process and undermined the stance of those Arabs who were willing to engage with Israel.

But he also said the pre-condition for a truce had to be the cessation of missile attacks against Israel by the radical Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile rejected criticism of her forthright support for Israel during the conflict with Hamas.

Merkel's assessment, offered during her New Year address, matched that of the European Union foreign ministers, the spokesman said.

She had made it clear that she too desired a truce in the fighting as soon as possible, he added.

"However conditions have to be met, and the most important condition in the view of the chancellor is that Israel's security must be secured," said the spokesman at her office.

Senior Hamas leader killed

Palestinians stand near the destroyed house of Hamas senior leader Nizar Rayan

Palestinians protested the killing of Nizar Rayan and his family

Earlier on Thursday, an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hamas leader, his wife and eight children.

Nizar Rayan and his family were killed when his house was struck in the northern Gaza refugee camp of Jabaliya, Kamal Odwan hospital in the refugee camp confirmed.

Rayan was the most senior Hamas leader killed so far in six days of ferocious Israeli airstrikes. Most top leaders of the movement have gone into hiding.

Rayan, in his 50s, was a senior political leader of Hamas in the north of the strip, but also close to the movement's armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades. He led the al-Qassam Brigades and the Palestinian resistance during several Israeli military ground incursions into the strip in the past.

An Israeli military spokeswoman could not immediately confirm he was the target of the strike, but said the Israel Air Force had hit several buildings in Jabaliya used by Hamas for storing rockets.

Fighting continues

An Israeli soldier works on his tank at a staging area along the Israel-Gaza Border

International pressure to end six days of violence showed little immediate effect

On Thursday morning, an Israeli military spokesman said that the air force and navy had carried out around 20 operations since midnight, hitting, among other targets, the Palestinian Legislative Council building, the Hamas-run ministry of justice, tunnels running under the Gaza-Egyptian border, and a Hamas arms depot.

Militants fired around five missiles and mortars Thursday morning, including Grad missiles which struck the Israeli city of Beersheba. There were no reports of injuries.

Israeli army ground troops from the engineering and armoured corps, meanwhile, were massing on the Israel-Gaza border, waiting for the order to enter the enclave.

Israel Radio quoted a military official as saying that the ground operation, which is believed imminent, would involve many soldiers, but would be limited in scope.

Israel 's "iron fist"

Smoke rises from a building in Beit Lahiya northern Gaza Strip, after it was hit in an Israeli missile strike,

More than 400 Gazans have been killed and some 1,700 have been wounded since Israel embarked on its aerial campaign

Meanwhile, Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Thursday that his country would continue to act against Hamas with an "iron fist."

Touring the southern Israeli desert city of Beersheba, hit for the first time ever by Hamas' imported Grad rockets on Tuesday, he added however he hoped Israel would be able to complete its now six-day-old offensive in Gaza and achieve its goals "as quickly as possible."

The Israeli military had earlier said the offensive would "take time."

"We haven't declared a war on the residents of Gaza," Olmert said according to a government statement. "I've said it before and I say it again that we will deal with the residents with silk gloves, but with Hamas with an iron fist."

"I hope very much that we will reach our goals as quickly as possible."

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