Israel began pouring reservists into heavy clashes across the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the death toll from its war on Hamas approached 900 and officials indicated that the end may be in sight.
Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza’s main city, as warplanes carried out at least 50 air strikes on the 16th day of a war launched to combat Palestinian rocket fire, which has continued despite the offensive.
Israel’s Channel Two said the army had begun sending in some of the thousands of reservists called up when the war began on Dec. 27, and an army spokesman said they would be increasingly "integrated" into combat units.
Civilians again fell victim in Israel’s offensive in Gaza as Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza’s main city despite indications by the Jewish state Sunday that an end was in sight to its war on Gaza, which has killed nearly 900 people in the Gaza Strip.
Two Egyptian children and three police officers were wounded by shrapnel from Israeli bombs near a crossing point at Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip, security sources said.
The children, aged two and five, and the three officers were the first Egyptians to be wounded by Israeli bombs since the Israeli offensive against Gaza began on Dec. 27, and were taken to hospitals in el-Arish.
Witnesses said Egyptian houses near the border and government offices at the crossing were damaged by shrapnel.
Expanding Air Campaign
Israel has expanded its air campaign to the southern Gaza Strip, aiming at smuggling tunnels running under the border with Egypt, a network that is Gaza’s lifeline to the outside world.
Israeli officials suggested the Jewish state was nearing the end of its offensive, which has killed hundreds of civilians, despite having last week waved off a U.N. resolution calling for an immediate halt to the fighting.
Israeli troops and Hamas fighters battled in some of their heaviest clashes yet and Palestinians in the densely populated neighborhoods of Gaza City fled their homes in the face of advancing Israeli troops.
Israeli warplanes bombed more than 60 targets throughout Gaza overnight and into morning, hitting arms depots and smuggling tunnels as well as a mosque that was allegedly used to store weapons and train fighters, the army said, causing mass panic as dozens of Palestinians attempted to flee.
Troops that descended on the southern Tal al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza
City encountered roadside bombs, mortar and gunfire from Palestinian fighters, witnesses said.
The troops withdrew at daybreak, but hundreds of panicked residents fled the area, clutching small children and hastily packed bags after a sleepless night.
The panic had intensified after the Israeli military dropped leaflets over Gaza City on Saturday to warn citizens that it planned to intensify its operations throughout the coastal strip.
As the death toll spiraled Israel refused to let up as news continued to break of whole families being annihilated at a time. For those that escaped death they were faced with severe wounds that Human Rights Watch (HRW) and doctors said were caused by banned white phosphorous shells that Israel denied using.
HRW has accused Israel of using white-phosphorus munitions and warned of undue suffering to Palestinian civilians through severe burns.
Dr. Yusef Abu Rish at Gaza City’s Nasser hospital told AFP that at least 55 people were injured early Sunday by white phosphorous shells, banned under international law for use against civilians, but permitted for creating smokescreens.
"These people were burned over their bodies in a way that can only be caused by white phosphorous," said Abu Rish.
A military spokeswoman denied the claims. "There is no use of white phosphorous. Everything we use is according to international law," she said.
Israel and Hamas
Israel claims it has killed more than 550 Palestinian fighters since the operation began on Dec. 27.
Army spokesman Jacob Dallal declined to confirm the number but said "several hundred" fighters, most of them from Hamas, had been killed.
"There is no question that the military ability of Hamas has been diminished," he said.
But Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, speaking from exile in Syria, said Israel was making no headway as he accused Tel Aviv of a holocaust in Gaza.
"I can say with full confidence that on the military level the enemy has totally failed; it has not achieved anything," Meshaal said in pre-recorded remarks broadcast on Al Arabiya TV and other Arabic satellite stations.
"Has it stopped the rockets?" he asked of Israel’s declared aim in launching the offensive.
Meshaal is not the first to label what is happening in Gaza a holocaust; last week Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, used the same term to describe the crisis.
Since Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ began the death toll has rapidly climbed as is quickly approaching one thousand deaths with at least 3,490 injured, prompting protests worldwide against the huge number of civilian casualties.
(Alarabiya.net and Agencies)