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Call for Immediate Truce Fails to Halt Fighting in Gaza

The top U.N. human rights official urges an independent investigation into possible war crimes by both Israel and Hamas. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

There were fierce battles in Gaza on Friday as Hamas and Israel both rejected a United Nations call for an immediate cease-fire. The densely populated area faces shortages of food, medicine, water and electric power.

Israel says its air and ground attacks are targeting only Hamas-related targets. It blames the Palestinian group for positioning fighters and rockets in civilian areas.

Hamas continued to fire rockets into southern Israel. A Hamas leader said in Damascus that the call for a truce would mean a surrender. But he also said Hamas was preparing to send a delegation to Cairo to further discuss an Egyptian peace plan.

The United States did not vote on the cease-fire resolution passed Thursday by the Security Council. American officials say they want to see the results of the Egyptian efforts.

Friday, the top U.N. human rights official called for an independent investigation into possible war crimes by both sides in the conflict. Navi Pillay, in Geneva, criticized Hamas leaders for the harm caused to Israeli civilians by rocket fire. And she warned against the use of people in Gaza as human shields.

At the same time, she deplored Israeli strikes against clearly marked U.N. buildings where civilians were taking shelter. The United Nations temporarily suspended aid operations in Gaza Thursday after Israeli fire killed the driver of an aid truck.

Gaza medical officials say more than eight hundred Palestinians have been killed. About half, they say, have been women and children. At least thirteen Israelis have been killed, including at least nine soldiers. Hamas rockets have hit farther inside Israel than before. Fighting continued Saturday.

A six-month cease-fire negotiated by Egypt ended on December nineteenth. Israel, facing rocket attacks, began its offensive two weeks ago.

Israel says it has no plans to permanently reoccupy Gaza. It ended a thirty-eight year occupation of the narrow strip along the Mediterranean coast in two thousand five. Hamas captured control of Gaza from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in two thousand seven.

Hamas is supported by Iran and Syria. It was formed in nineteen eighty-seven. Israel, the United States and the European Union consider it a terrorist group.

Hamas aims to destroy Israel and has killed hundreds of Israelis. Yet it developed partly as a result of Israeli support for the idea of a Muslim religious group as a balance against Fatah under Yasser Arafat.

The Bush administration has blamed Hamas for inciting the latest violence. President-elect Barack Obama says he is concerned about the violence in Gaza. But he says it would not be right for him to speak at length about the conflict until he takes office on January twentieth.

BARACK OBAMA: "We cannot have two administrations running foreign policy at the same time. We simply cannot do it. And so as a consequence, what I am doing is I am being briefed consistently, my national security team is fully up to speed on it. But the situation of domestic policy making and foreign policy making are two different things."

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.