Medics: Israeli army kills 46 Palestinians in Gaza

( dpa )- The Israeli army killed 46 Palestinians and wounded 200 Saturday in a large-scale ground operation in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical sources said.

The sources said Israeli warplanes and tanks fired missiles and shells at houses and individuals in the area. At least 20 of the victims were civilians, including four women and six children.

Mo'aweya Hassanein, chief of emergency and ambulance services at the Palestinian health ministry, told reporters: "It is the highest ever figure of death casualties in the Gaza Strip.

"I have never witnessed such a high death toll since I started my career 20 years ago." The Israeli incursion has left around 80 Palestinians dead since Wednesday, Palestinian sources said.

The highest number of death casualties in a single day was in November last year, when the Israeli army killed 21 Palestinians. Saturday was the bloodiest and the most violent since 1967.

Hassanein warned of a humanitarian disaster if Israeli airstrikes were allowed to go on, referring to the lack of medical support and fuel for ambulances after miore than eight months of israeli closure on the Gaza Strip.

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

Two Israeli soldiers were reported killed in eastern Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip and four wounded, and ten Israelis were reported injured by the homemade rockets militants fired into southern Israel from Gaza.

Speaking to members of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in a meeting held in Ramallah, Palestinian President President Abbas said: "What is actually happening in Gaza is more than a holocaust" - a 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'."

Hamas police sources said dozens of Israeli army tanks backed by helicopters and drones attacked an area east of Jabalia town in the northern Gaza Strip, with heavy gun battles erupting.

A fresh Israeli airstrike was carried out at a house in northern Gaza City, killing the owner of the house and another child. Three were injured, witnesses and medics said.

In Jabalia, Israeli aircraft carried out two separate strikes on a van and on a car, killing four people in each strike, Hamas police sources and witnesses said.

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.

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 bound 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 accused 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, was expected in Israel and the Palestinian territories on Sunday to help salvage the crumbling peace process.

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