Clashes Kill Nine in Gaza

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) on Monday condemned what he called international indifference to Palestinian suffering in the face of a broad Israeli offensive into the Gaza Strip (search) aimed at halting rocket attacks on Israel.

At least 68 Palestinians have been killed in the five-day offensive, making it the deadliest Israeli incursion into Gaza in more than four years of fighting.

Nine Palestinians died Monday in northern Gaza, including four militants and a 14-year-old girl who residents said was shot as she baked bread with her mother in their garden.

Early Tuesday, one Palestinian gunman was killed and three wounded in an Israeli missile strike, Palestinians said. Israeli military sources confirmed that armed Palestinians were the target but would not comment on reports that a pilot-less drone fired the missile.

In southern Gaza, miles away from the offensive, Palestinian residents said a 4-year-old boy was killed by tank fire next to his house near the town of Khan Younis (search). The Israeli military said there were no shootings in the area.

Late Monday, the army said it killed a Palestinian gunman who tried to infiltrate the Israeli settlement of Netzer Hazani near Khan Younis. Also, Palestinians said an Al Aqsa militant was killed in the Jebaliya camp.

In other developments, a spat between Israel and the United Nations escalated after a top U.N. official in the region acknowledged that some of his Palestinian employees were probably members of militant groups.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, undercover Israeli troops ambushed a car on Monday, killing two members of an elite Palestinian security force and wounding a third, Palestinian security officials said. Army radio said an Israeli was also killed; the army declined to confirm the report.

Israel moved into northern Gaza last week after a Palestinian rocket attack killed two children in the Israeli town of Sderot. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said the operation will continue until the rocket attacks stop.

Despite the Israeli campaign, Palestinian militants managed to fire off two more rockets at Sderot on Monday, slightly wounding one man with shrapnel.

Israeli forces have carved out a five-mile buffer zone in northern Gaza in an attempt to move its towns out of rocket range.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said in a radio address Monday that the people of Gaza will never surrender. But he hinted that the militants should halt the rocket fire.

"I call on the factions to put the Palestinian high interest above everything ... not to give the occupation any excuse against us," he said.

The operation has exacted a heavy price on the Palestinians, leaving a wide swath of destruction in the Jebaliya refugee camp and leaving dozens homeless.

Qureia, speaking before a meeting of the Palestinian Cabinet in Ramallah, criticized the "massive destruction" and called for heavy international pressure on Israel.

"This ugly Israeli crime is taking place in full view of the world, and so far, we have not heard a strong word from the world community that can bring an end to this aggression," he said.

The United States, European Union and a number of European countries have urged restraint by Israel and raised concerns about civilian casualties.

France condemned the Israeli operation on Monday, while Egypt's foreign minister urged Israel to stop its "policy of assassination and destruction," the semiofficial Middle East News Agency reported.

The U.N. Security Council also called an emergency meeting at the request of Arab nations to consider a resolution demanding an immediate halt to the offensive.

But much of the international reaction has been directed at the Palestinians as well, urging an end to rocket attacks and recognizing Israel's right to defend itself.

Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, described the Western condemnations as "weak and not consistent with the large scale of the aggression."

"It's the world's responsibility to intervene strongly with every possible means, including economic sanctions," he said.

Raanan Gissin, a senior Israeli official, attributed the tepid international response so far to recognition of Israel's security needs. "The world has come to know Palestinian terror organizations for what they are," he said.

Analysts also cited world "fatigue" with the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the international focus on Iraq.

"All efforts are concentrated on Iraq," said Germano Dottori, a political analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies in Rome.

Mark Heller, an analyst at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, said international outrage may be tempered by Israel's plans to pull out of Gaza next year. "I think there's recognition ... given last week's rocket attack, responsibility for the chain of events doesn't really lie with Israel," he said.

The rocket attacks threaten to undermine support for Sharon's withdrawal plan. Israeli officials say the offensive is aimed at clearing the way for the pullout to proceed on schedule next year.

In a separate development Monday, Israeli officials renewed accusations that the U.N. agency in charge of Palestinian refugees was harboring terrorists.

Israel has demanded the United Nations investigate the actions of its top official in Gaza, Peter Hansen, after the Israeli army released video taken by an unmanned aircraft flying over the Gaza Strip that Israel said showed militants loading a rocket into a U.N. vehicle.

Hansen sent a letter to Israel on Monday accusing Israel of fabricating the story. But Israeli officials seized on an interview Hansen gave the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in which Hansen acknowledged that some of his U.N. Relief and Works Agency's approximately 24,000 Palestinian employees were probably members of militant groups such as Hamas.

"I'm sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll," Hansen said in the CBC interview that aired Sunday. "I don't see that as a crime."

Israel's Foreign Ministry said the government viewed Hansen's comments with the utmost gravity.

UNRWA spokesman Paul McCann said the agency does not vet the political beliefs of its staff but does insist they abide by a strict code of conduct and maintain neutrality.