Israel warns Gaza of escalation in war

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ISRAEL warned the citizens of Gaza yesterday that an escalation of its brutal two-week military campaign was imminent, despite a new wave of global protests against the fighting.

As the Gaza death toll exceeded 800 – most of them civilians – Hamas's leader in exile, Khaled Meshaal, described the attacks as a "holocaust". And in London last night police said they expected to make up to 40 arrests after a violent protest outside the Israeli embassy.

After another day of bombardment of Hamas positions, the Israeli government signalled that a third phase of its attack was about to start.

Thousands of reservists have been mobilised to take part in an assault on Hamas strongholds inside Gaza City, where fighting conditions for Israeli units are expected to be tougher. A leaflet dropped by the Israeli air force over the city read: "The IDF (Israeli Defence Force] will escalate the operation in the Gaza Strip.

"The IDF is not working against the people of Gaza, but against Hamas and the terrorists only. Stay safe by following our orders."

The leaflet urged Gaza residents not to help Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza.

To add to the week's slaughter, nine members of one family – including two women and two children – were killed yesterday when a tank fired on their garden.

"Residents brought them to the hospital in a civilian car," said Adham el-Hakim, the administrator of Kamal Adwan hospital. "They put them all in the trunk because their bodies were mangled."

The Israeli military said more than 15 militants were killed in fighting on Friday and yesterday, and aircraft had attacked more than 40 targets.

Despite two weeks of air and ground assault, Hamas fighters still fired at least 15 rockets into southern Israel yesterday. One hit an apartment building in Ashkelon, wounding three people, one seriously.

In a fiery speech on the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera, Khaled Meshaal said Hamas would not consider a Gaza ceasefire until Israel ends its military offensive and opens the coastal enclave's border crossings.

"We are living the hardest moments of the resistance now. We want another intifada (uprising] in Palestine and on the Arab street," he said. But he did offer a slightest glimmer of hope, saying: "Let Israel pull out first, let the aggression stop first, let the crossings open and then people can look into the issue of calm."

Both Israel and Hamas continued to ignore a United Nations resolution passed on Thursday calling for an immediate and durable ceasefire. Israel has dismissed the UN Security Council resolution as impractical, while Hamas is angry it was not consulted in the diplomatic efforts.

Egyptian peace attempts were similarly ignored. In Cairo, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and head of Hamas's political rival movement Fatah, urged both Israel and Hamas to agree to an Egypt-brokered truce. After meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Abbas stressed that there was no time to waste in ending the "waterfall of blood" in Gaza, home to 1.5 million people.

Hamas officials from both Gaza and Syria are also in Cairo for separate talks with Egyptian officials on a truce. Israeli officials visited Cairo last week.

Aid agencies also renewed their calls for an immediate ceasefire yesterday, claiming that three-hour halts in fighting offered by the Israelis were not long enough for humanitarian efforts.

Meanwhile, a leading human rights group yesterday said Israel should stop using white-phosphorus munitions during its offensive in the Gaza Strip, warning of the risk to Palestinian civilians who live near the fighting.

Human Rights Watch said Israel appeared to be using the munitions to make smoke screens to hide military operations.

But Marc Garlasco, the group's senior military analyst, said: "White phosphorus can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin."

Angry protests against the Israeli military campaign again erupted in Britain and other countries, with 20,000 marchers taking to the streets in Berlin. In Edinburgh, 4,000 demonstrators took part in a rally calling for an end to the military onslaught. Some protesters hurled shoes, ski boots, sticks and red paint at the American consulate, injuring three policemen.

No arrests were made, but Lothian and Borders Police appealed for witnesses, saying the force was "extremely disappointed at the violent behaviour".

In London, a crowd estimated at between 20,000 and 50,000 marched through the city. Dozens of arrests were made as violence flared outside the Israeli embassy and a Starbucks coffee shop was damaged. A police officer was knocked unconscious during the clashes.

Metropolitan Police Commander Bob Broadhurst said: "We are very disappointed by the irresponsible actions of those who have challenged police by ripping apart security barriers and throwing objects at them."

Last night, the Scottish health service said it would be willing to treat any victims of the humanitarian crisis that needed its help.