Luis Ramirez
Voice of America
January 12, 2009 - 1:00am

Israeli warplanes have been attacking the homes of Hamas leaders in Gaza, during the 17th day of Israel's assault. Palestinian medical officials say nearly 900 people have died in the attacks, which are showing no signs of letting up.

The fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas raged on, as thousands of Israeli reservists entered the Gaza Strip.

Israeli ground troops battled militants in house-to-house combat, edging closer to the center of Gaza City.

Israel's attacks on Gaza appeared to be less intense, with military officials saying they carried out fewer than 20 bombings - compared to as many as 40 per night during the past few days.

Israel's aim is to end Hamas' ability to fire rockets at Israeli civilians as it has been doing for years. A spokesman for the Israeli prime minister's office, Mark Regev, says Israel is close to reaching its goals as troops close in on areas of Gaza.

"We are approaching a situation where our goals are being achieved and we think we are approaching the end game," he said.

But even as Israel attacks Gaza on the ground, from the air and from the sea, Hamas is showing no signs of backing down. Militants fired more rockets into southern Israel, including what officials say was a military-grade rocket on the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Diplomatic efforts are intensifying. Middle East envoy Tony Blair, representing the Middle East Quartet made up of the United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia, met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. He said they discussed details for a ceasefire agreement.

"I think the elements of an agreement for the immediate ceasefire are there. I think they are now being worked on very hard in great detail," said Blair. "This is a sensitive and delicate time in that negotiation, but I hope they will bear fruit and I hope so soon."

Israel is not allowing international journalists to enter Gaza. From inside, residents said conditions are worsening as thousands of traumatized people leave their homes in search of safety.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017