Israeli ground forces advance on Gaza City
Hospitals, UN compound, media building under attack
Date: 15 / 01 / 2009 Time: 09:33
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Gaza – Ma’an – Israeli ground forces backed by tanks invaded Gaza City from the south on Thursday morning while warplanes bombed the city center, causing thousands to flee their homes.

In the southern Gaza City neighborhood of Tel Al-Hawa, gunfire and fierce clashes with Palestinian fighters have been reported. Witnesses said the tanks have reached Awan Street, the farthest Israeli forces have entered since the beginning of the invasion.

In the southern Rimal neighborhood, just to the north of Tel Al-Hawa, witnesses reported seeing dozens of families in their bedclothes in the streets, fleeing the Israeli onslaught on foot.

Al-Quds Hospital went up in flames after it came under Israeli shelling. Workers at the Palestine Red Crescent facility said they fear the fire could cause an explosion due to the fuel stored in the hospital's warehouse.

Dr Bashar Murad the head of emergency services at the Al-Quds Hospital told Ma’an that three Israeli missiles hit the hospital, two of them containing white phosphorus. Shrapnel from the bombs was scattered in the hospital but no one was injured. Fire has engulfed the hospital’s administration building, a storehouse, and a pharmacy.

Dr Murad said that up to 600 people had fled Tel Al-Hawa and areas around the hospital.

Meanwhile, UN's relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, says Israeli shells struck one of their installations in Gaza, injuring three workers. The compound includes the UNRWA headquarters, other offices and a school. Hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge in the compound.

Separatlely Israeli forces attacked a media compound home to the Reuters news agency, NBC, and a number of Arab networks in Gaza City late on Thursday morning. Two journalists working for Abu Dhabi television have reportedly been injured when at least one Israeli shell struck the building.

The Mujahedin Brigades said that two fighters have been killed in street battles with Israeli forces in Tel Al-Hawa. They were identified as Ahmad Al-Bitar and Ahed Abu Asi.

Further south, in central Gaza, Israeli forces have surrounded the Al-Aqsa Hospital, according to international volunteers in the building.

“The hospital has received over 150 calls for help from people including many children in the surrounding area who have been wounded and are in desperate need of medical care. The Israeli army has surrounded the hospital and no one is able to get in or out,” said volunteer Sharon Lock.

Intense shelling overnight

Another 21 Gazans were confirmed killed in heavy overnight shelling. According to senior officials at the Palestinian Health Ministry, the official death toll is now 1,054. More than 4,600 have been wounded in two and a half weeks of the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Israeli forces shelled a store near Al-Karameh towers in Gaza City, the Bashir mosque, and the Al-Arqam school in eastern Gaza City.

The Israel's air force said it attacked more than 70 targets in Gaza, in what appeared to be heavier-than-usual bombing. Heavy artillery shelling was also reported in Beit Lahiya and Jabaliya, north of Gaza City, and in Khan Younis, in the south of the Strip.

On Thursday morning the Israeli military said it would continue the operation in Gaza despite reports that Hamas had accepted an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire.