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Israeli Troops, Hamas Battle On Gaza City Streets

Israeli ground troops took their fight into the heart of Gaza City on Tuesday, battling Hamas militants in the streets as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon headed to the region in hopes of securing a cease-fire.

The push into the Tel Hawwa neighborhood of Gaza City marked the farthest Israeli troops had penetrated the territory's largest city during its 18-day offensive against Hamas militants.

Since the fighting began, more than 900 Palestinians, half of them civilians, have been killed, hospital officials in Gaza say.


Speaking in New York before departing for the Middle East, the United Nations chief said a cease-fire could be accomplished only if certain basic conditions outlined in a U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this week were met.

"At the minimum, that means a halt in rocket attacks by Hamas militants and a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza," Ban said.

Hamas envoys resumed talks Tuesday in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence officials on a truce proposal. Ban said he expected "the parties now meeting in Cairo to do what is required."

Ban is to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is hosting talks with the Israelis and Hamas. He will also meet with leaders of Israel, Jordan and Syria.

Qatar has requested an emergency Arab League summit to discuss the Gaza situation, the Arab League said on Tuesday, but Egypt said it prefers unofficial consultations among Arab leaders.


Arab League spokesman Abdel-Alim al-Abyad said Qatar made the request for a summit on Monday and that two-thirds of the league's 22 members needed to approve the request for the summit to take place.

But Egypt's Foreign Ministry said Cairo would rather take up the matter when Arab leaders meet in Kuwait on Jan. 18 for an economic summit.

Hamas said it is sticking to its position that it will observe a truce only when Israeli troops end their offensive. Israel's military chief told Parliament Tuesday that his forces "still have work to do."

Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 to end years of Palestinian rocket attacks on its southern towns, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to press forward with an "iron fist" despite growing international calls for an end to the fighting.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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