Abbas calls for halt to offensive as 32 Palestinians die

( dpa ) - At least 32 Palestinians have been killed Saturday in an Israeli offensive in north-eastern Gaza Strip that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called upon Israel to halt.

According to Palestinian medical and police sources, around 100 Palestinians have been wounded in addition to the number killed.

The deaths included civilians - a doctor and at least five children - as well as four militants from the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army rolled into the eastern areas of the northern Gaza Strip after midnight, apparently to remove Palestinian rocket squads from the border and curb their home-made rocket attacks.

The Israeli incursion has left around 66 Palestinians dead and 200 wounded since Wednesday.

Several militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad (Holy War), claimed to have launched dozens of homemade rockets and mortars at Israel despite the offensive.

Speaking to members of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in a meeting held in Ramallah, President Abbas said the current Israeli escalation was "very dangerous."

"What is actually happening in Gaza is more than a holocaust," he said in reference to a recent statement by an Israeli official.

"I do not think what Israel is doing is in retaliation to the missiles, which we condemn," said Abbas. "These missiles cannot be of the volume to justify this horrifying act, which required, regrettably, the use of a word despised for over 60 years and this word is 'holocaust'."

On Friday, Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said that unless Palestinians in Gaza stopped firing missiles into Israel, they would face a holocaust. The word "holocaust" in Israel is highly bond to the concept of the genocide of World War II.

His statement provoked widespread condemnation and concern that Israel intended to escalate its military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas, who is to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Ramallah early next week, called on the international community "to take the necessary steps, which I hope will stop this Israeli belligerence that targets only innocent children and women."

"We tell the world, look and judge what is going on and decide who is carrying out state terrorism," Abbas said.

Abbas also called on all militant groups to stop launching rockets at Israel, adding, "This would help in ending the suffering of our people and avoid them more disasters."

"It is a high interest for the Palestinian people not to give Israel any excuse to continue its aggression," Abbas said.

Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo on Voice of Palestine Radio also called for a stop to Palestinian rocket fire, saying that "the Israeli occupation exploits them to kill more victims."

Abed Rabbo in addition accuse Hamas of profiting from the distress of ordinary Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the European Commission representative in Jerusalem expressed concern over the impact of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.

"This loss of life highlights even more the need to find a political solution to what is essentially a political crisis," John Kjaer said in a statement issued by his office.

Expressing condolences to the families of those killed in the Gaza Strip, Kjaer said: "The tragic loss of civilian life, particularly of innocent children, saddens me deeply. My heart goes out to those who have lost dear ones and family members and my thoughts are with them at this terrible time."

EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is expected in Israel and the Palestinian territories on Sunday to help salvage the crumbling peace process.

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