GAZA, (Reuters) – Israel rejected a U.N. resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on Friday and jets and tanks again pounded the Palestinian enclave.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed Thursday’s binding Security Council resolution demanding an “immediate and durable” ceasefire as “unworkable”.
Diplomats sounded the alarm that Egyptian-brokered truce talks launched this week might also be foundering.
Israel’s security cabinet debated for the second time in three days whether to send in reservists for a push into the Gaza Strip’s towns and cities. There was no word on the outcome.
Mark Regev, Olmert’s spokesman, declined to say whether the ministers had decided to expand the ground operation. “I can’t go into operational details. The military pressure on Hamas will continue,” Regev said, adding that the Islamist group had fired 30 rockets into Israel on Friday.
Olmert said earlier: “The firing of rockets this morning only goes to show that the U.N. decision is unworkable and will not be adhered to by the murderous Palestinian organisations.”
The United States, which abstained in the U.N. vote, offered further public support for Israel’s military goals. “This situation will not improve until Hamas stops lobbing rockets into Israel,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said. He also said President George W. Bush had voiced his concern to Olmert about the humanitarian situation and the loss of civilian lives during the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s air force said it hit over 50 targets overnight. As fighting on the ground went on through the day, Palestinian medics counted at least 19 dead, including civilians.
With the Palestinian civilian death toll already in the hundreds, Israeli actions have drawn outraged denunciations from the Red Cross, U.N. agencies, Arab and European governments.
Israeli planes bombed the outskirts of Gaza City, residents said. Tanks shelled a house in Beit Lahiya in the north of the strip, killing six Palestinians from one family, medics said.
A U.N. agency said in a report that 30 Palestinians were killed earlier this week when the Israeli army herded dozens of civilians into a house which was later hit by shells.
Hamas officials say they are weighing the U.N. resolution, but have voiced irritation they were not consulted. One official said a Hamas delegation from Damascus would go to Cairo on Saturday to respond to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal.
Hamas wants any ceasefire deal to include the ending of Israel’s crippling economic blockade of the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the territory.
Israel’s key demands are for a complete halt to Hamas rocket fire and for international guarantees to stop the Islamist group rearming via smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt.
Regev said talks with Egypt over the ceasefire proposal would continue, but he did not say when.
The Egyptian initiative, also sponsored by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, may be in trouble, however. “The truce talks are going nowhere at the moment,” a senior European diplomat told Reuters. “There is a growing sense that the Egyptian-French plan is not going to work.”
European and Israeli diplomats said Egypt was objecting to proposals that foreign troops and technicians be stationed on its 15-km (9-mile) border with Gaza to prevent arms smuggling.
Instead, diplomats said, Egypt was ready to accept technical assistance for its own forces on the border. Israel says the Egyptians have failed in the past to prevent Hamas building up an arsenal of hundreds of Soviet-designed Katyusha missiles.
The onslaught in Gaza, where many civilians including children have been killed, has solid support among Israelis, one month before a parliamentary election. A poll on Friday showed over 90 percent support among Israel’s Jewish majority.
It showed that Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s Labour party has held on to sharp gains it has made since the war began, but still trails Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Kadima.
Kadima is running close behind the right-wing Likud opposition, whose leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, supports the war.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, governed by Hamas’s rival Fatah movement under President Mahmoud Abbas, have been enraged by the Israeli offensive. Israeli forces and Abbas’s police were on high alert on Friday, although there were only minor clashes around weekly prayers at mosques.
Several thousand people demonstrated and burned Israeli flags in Hebron, a Hamas stronghold in the West Bank.
For the third day running, the Israeli army held fire in the afternoon to let Gazans stock up on food and other supplies.
The U.N. resolution called for “unimpeded provision” and distribution of aid to Gaza, home to 1.5 million people, as wel
as measures to halt arms smuggling and open the borders. Medics in Gaza said the Palestinian death toll had risen to 784. Ten soldiers have been killed in Israel’s campaign to crush Hamas forces and stop cross-border rocket fire — which has killed three Israeli civilians since the offensive began.