Israeli tanks and troops edged closer to the heart of Gaza city last night.Explosions and heavy machine-gun fire echoed across the densely populated downtown areas around the city centre. Israeli forward units are said to be testing the reaction of militants defending the built-up urban areas. Israeli aircraft have carried out more than 2,000 sorties since the offensive was launched on December the 27th. Israeli Apache attack helicopter pilot, Captain Orr, regretted the number of civilian casualties. “We are aware that in this war, besides a lot of enemies that are being harmed, also there are a few uninvolved civilians in Gaza that have been harmed. We are very sorry for that,” he said. Israel claims Hamas fighters have taken off their uniforms and are using schools and mosques and crowded residential areas for cover. But the images of maimed and bloodied Palestinian civilians, including women and children, has increased global criticism of Israel’s combat tactics. One volunteer doctor from Athens voiced his concern over the rising civilian body count. “I don’t know what Mrs Livni, with her nice suits says, but I’ve seen only civilian victims. I have seen no militants. I have seen old people, old women, young women and children,” he said. The number of Palestinian deaths has risen to 971, including some 400 women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas run health ministry. Forty two people were killed during yesterday’s advance alone. Gaza’s chief UN official says nowhere in the territory, of one and a half million people, is now safe.