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Current Events => The World Today => Topic started by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 08:44:14 am



Title: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 08:44:14 am







                                       Israel destroys Gaza homes, flattens mosque






   
Ibrahim Barzak And Matti Friedman,
Associated Press Writers
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip –

Israel bombed a mosque it says was used to store weapons and destroyed the homes of more than a dozen Hamas operatives on Friday, the seventh day of a blistering offensive in Gaza and the day after an airstrike killed a prominent Hamas figure.

In what appeared to be a new Israeli tactic, the military called at least some of the houses ahead of time to warn inhabitants of an impending attack. In some cases, it also fired a sound bomb to warn away civilians before flattening the homes with powerful missiles, Palestinians and Israeli defense officials said.

Israel launched the aerial campaign last Saturday in a bid to halt weeks of intensifying Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. The offensive has dealt a heavy blow to Hamas, but has failed to halt the rocket fire. New attacks Friday struck apartment buildings in a southern Israeli city. No serious injuries were reported.

After destroying Hamas' security compounds, Israel has turned its attention to the group's leadership.

In airstrike after airstrike early Friday, Israeli warplanes hit some 20 houses believed to belong to Hamas militants and members of other armed groups, Palestinians said.

They said the Israelis either warned nearby residents by phone or fired a warning missile to reduce civilian casualties. Israeli planes also dropped leaflets east of Gaza giving a confidential phone number and e-mail address for people to report locations of rocket squads. Residents stepped over the leaflets.

Israel used similar tactics during its 2006 war in Lebanon.

Most of the targeted homes Friday belonged to activist leaders and appeared to be empty at the time, but one man was killed in a strike that flattened a building in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza.

More than 400 Gazans have been killed and some 1,700 have been wounded in the Israeli campaign, Gaza health officials said. The number of combatants and civilians killed is unclear, but Hamas has said around half of the dead are members of its security forces and the U.N. has said more than 60 are civilians, 34 of them children.

Three Israeli civilians and one soldier have also died in the rocket attacks, which have reached deeper into Israel than ever before, bringing an eighth of Israel's population of 7 million within rocket range.

The mosque destroyed Friday was known as a Hamas stronghold, and the army said it was used to store weapons. Hamas has boasted that more than 100 of the mosque's worshippers have been killed in the past on missions against Israelis.

It also was identified with Nizar Rayan, the Hamas militant leader killed Thursday when Israel dropped a one-ton bomb on his home. The explosion killed 20 people, including all four of Rayan's wives and 10 of his children.

The strike on Rayan's home obliterated the four-story apartment building and peeled off the walls of others around it, carving out a vast field of rubble.

Rayan, 49, ranked among Hamas' top five decision-makers. A professor of Islamic law, he was known for his close ties to the group's military wing and was respected in Gaza for donning combat fatigues and personally participating in clashes against Israeli forces. He sent one of his sons on an October 2001 suicide mission that killed two Israeli settlers in Gaza.

Israel's military said the homes of Hamas leaders are being used to store missiles and other weapons, and the hit on Rayan's house triggered secondary explosions from the stockpile there.

Israeli defense officials said the military had called Rayan's home and fired a warning missile before destroying the building. That was impossible to confirm. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss military tactics.

Israel has targeted Hamas leaders many times in the past, but halted the practice during a six-month truce that expired last month.

Most of Hamas' leaders went into hiding at the start of Israel's offensive. Rayan, however, was known for openly defying Israel and in the past had led crowds to the homes of wanted Hamas figures — as if daring Israel to strike and risk the lives of civilians.

The offensive has not halted rocket fire at Israel, and a barrage landed in the city of Ashkelon early Friday. Two rockets hit apartment buildings, lightly wounding one man, police said. Sirens warning Israelis to take cover when military radar picks up an incoming rocket have helped reduce casualties in recent days.

The military said aircraft destroyed the three rocket launchers used to fire at Ashkelon.

Israel has been building up artillery, armor and infantry on Gaza's border in an indication the punishing air assault could expand with a ground incursion. At the same time, international pressure is building for a cease-fire that would block more fighting.

Israel appears to be offering an opening for the intense diplomatic efforts, saying it would consider a halt to the fighting if international monitors were brought in to track compliance with any truce with Hamas.

Concerned about protests, Israeli police said they would step up security and restrict access to Friday prayers at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque. Devout Muslims attend large, communal prayers on Fridays.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said thousands of police would be deployed throughout the city, and that only Palestinian men over the age of 50, along with women of all ages, would be permitted to enter. He also said that police were in contact with Muslim leaders to ensure things remain quiet.

The army also imposed a closure on the West Bank, barring nearly all of the area's more than 2 million Palestinians from entering Israel.

___

Friedman reported from Jerusalem.


Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 08:49:38 am









                                 Gazan civilians increasingly at risk in assault on Hamas
     





Joshua Mitnick Joshua Mitnick –
Wed Dec 31, 2008
BBC News
Tel Aviv

– On the fourth day of airstrikes in Gaza Tuesday, one of Israel's many targets was a Hamas military commander's home within the teeming Jabaliya refugee camp. He wasn't there, but seven civilians died as a result of that attack.

Until now Israel has targeted mainly Hamas offices, ministries, and centers of power in a bid to limit collateral damage while still crippling the Islamists' ability to fire rockets across the border. But as the conflict stretches on and Israeli warplanes and drones seek out Hamas commanders and other militant leaders hiding in neighborhoods in the densely packed coastal strip, it will be harder to contain civilian deaths.

So far Israel has been relatively successful at zeroing in on targets and avoiding civilian casualties. It has run 400 sorties since the start of the conflict Saturday in an enclave about twice the size of Washington, D.C. Of the more than 370 Palestinians killed, at least 64 have been civilians, according to the United Nations.

Israeli military tacticians are all too aware that if civilian casualties climb too high, international pressure can end an otherwise carefully executed attack. It happened in the 2006 Lebanon war when Israel's allies could no longer tolerate the loss of innocent life. It's a metric that is callous yet at the forefront of modern Middle Eastern warfare.

"The more Israel's enemies are non state actors like Hamas, the more warfare has changed. The name of the game in warfare now is how to win the urban war, and that creates a whole new set of challenges," says David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute.

"Israel is always going to try to thread the needle, to hit those that hit them, but to try to avoid the loss of civilian life," he says.

Military experts dryly call it "collateral damage," a term referring to injured bystanders or property uninvolved in combat. Human rights advocates counter that the concept sanitizes the unavoidable costs of war.

Because Israel no longer faces conventional forces but smaller guerrilla armies in civilian areas, the mismatched fight has altered the nature of battle. The challenges are similar to those faced by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Tuesday morning, Palestinians reported that two young sisters from the Gazan farming village of Beit Hanoun were killed in one of the Israel air attacks – an example of just the kind of "collateral damage" that can turn the tables on the military and shorten a campaign.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said that the military is looking into the report, noting that the army tries to avoid civilian casualties.

Hamas says that it has fired more than 250 rockets and mortars on Israel since the offensive began and Israel reports that 40 were fired Tuesday. Three Israeli civilians and one soldier have been killed so far in rocket fire from Gaza militants.

Minimizing civilian casualties in Gaza requires "a combination of excellent intelligence, very accurate weapons systems, and very good planning that takes into account collateral damage," says Shlomo Brom, a former brigadier general who headed the Israeli army's strategic planning division.

Military planners rely on systems that integrate electro-optical, laser-guided, and global positioning technology, he says. So far, "the air operations are brilliant," but, he added, "mistakes are bound to happen and they will happen in this war."

Just such a mistake occurred in the third week of Israel's 2006 battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon, when the Israeli air force bombed a three-story building in the village of Qana and killed dozens of people, mostly children.

Described as an Israeli "massacre" by the Lebanese, the attack ratcheted up pressure for a cease-fire and became part of the well-orchestrated Hezbollah propaganda campaign that accompanied its fight with Israel. Israel was also accused of targeting civilians by using cluster bombs in the final days of the war even though Israel says it used them in accordance with international law.

Human Rights Watch, however, charges that Israel breached prohibitions by dropping cluster bombs in a civilian area.

In Gaza six years ago, the air force was accused of knowingly targeting civilians when it dropped a one-ton bomb on the hideout of Salah Shahade, a Hamas commander. The blast killed 15 civilians, including Mr. Shahde's wife and nine children.

"They are not intending to kill civilians, I believe that," says Iyad Sarraj, a Gazan human rights activist who heads the Gaza Community Mental Health Center. "But at the same time, if they have a target, and some civilians are in the vicinity, it doesn't matter. They have to hit the target anyway. Add to this that they are not 100 percent accurate."

Mr. Sarraj says that a friend and his family were almost left for dead after their house was buried in the rubble from an the Israeli air force attack on a neighboring multistory building.

To be sure, the debate over civilian casualties is littered with political, moral, and emotional land mines. Israelis claim the high ground by arguing that even though they fight terrorists who deliberately target civilians, they try to uphold a spirit of "purity of arms" by avoiding civilian casualties as much as possible.

Critics counter that by putting Palestinian towns under blockade and going after militants in civilian areas, Israel makes noncombantants targets.

For Ziad Koraz, whose nearby home was damaged in the attack on the government compound Tuesday, that violence gratuitously puts Gazan civilians at risk, the Associated Press reported.

"More than 17 missiles were directed at an empty government compound, without regard for civilians who lived nearby," Mr. Koraz said. "If someone committed a crime, they should go after him, not after an entire nation."


Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 08:54:51 am









                               Israeli attack kills brothers as Hamas stages 'Day of Wrath'
     





 Mai Yaghi
JAN. 2, 2009
– 10 mins ago
GAZA CITY
(AFP)

– Israeli warplanes hit Gaza targets including a mosque and a house where three young brothers were killed as Hamas supporters staged angry protests against Israel's week-old offensive.

A missile from one of 30 new Israeli raids hit a house and killed the boys, aged from seven to 10, emergency services said.

At least 430 Palestinians have been killed and 2,250 people wounded in the raids, according to Gaza officials.

The new strikes came as Israeli troops gathered on the Gaza border and thousands of Hamas faithful attended the funeral of Nizar Rayan , the most senior Hamas leadership victim of the offensive, who was killed with his four wives and 11 of his children in another Israeli raid on Thursday.

Rayan and his family were wrapped in green Hamas flags for their burials, during which Hamas vowed that it would not be bowed by the killings.

"I call on the resistance to continue pounding Jewish settlements and cities," said Sheikh Abdelrahman al-Jamal. "We will remain on the path of jihad until the end of days."

Hamas called a "Day of Wrath" against Israel, which brought thousands of protesters out onto the streets of Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Police fired teargas at rock throwing youths in Jerusalem.

Hamas has warned it could resume suicide attacks against Israel for the first time since January 2005 to avenge the death of Rayan, the most senior Islamist killed by Israel since Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 2004.

With a ground offensive widely expected and no ceasefire in sight, the Israeli army opened a border crossing to let an estimated 400 foreigners in Gaza leave the battered enclave.

But reporters did not go into Gaza despite a Supreme Court ruling that eight foreign media should be allowed into the territory after the foreign press group objected to the government demand to choose two of the journalists.

Seven days into the offensive, Israeli jets staged more than 30 new raids on the densely populated territory, which it said targeted rocket launching sites and Hamas buildings.

Three young brothers -- Iyad, Mohammed and Abdelsattar al-Astal died in a raid that appeared to target a rocket launcher near their house near the city of Khan Yunis, emergency services said.

A mosque in the northern town of Jabaliya that the military said was a "terror hub" used to stockpile weapons, was also hit.

Long queues formed outside bakeries and other stores which only open during the rare hours when electricity is available. Aid agencies say fuel and food is also in short supply.

Hamas fired more than 20 rockets into Israel, but no casualties were reported.

Israel unleashed "Operation Cast Lead" on Gaza on December 27 in response to persistent rocket fire from the territory, which has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since Hamas seized control in June 2007.

Gaza militants have fired more than 360 rockets into Israel over seven days, killing four people and wounding dozens more. Some rockets have reached up to 40 kilometres (24 miles) inside Israeli territory, the furthest the projectiles have struck.

The Israeli offensive has sparked angry protests in the Muslim world and defied diplomatic efforts to broker a truce.

Tens of thousands took to the streets of Jakarta, thousands demonstrated in Afghanistan and Turkey, some burning Israeli flags, more than 4,000 Muslims paraded in Sydney and hundreds of Muslims burnt Israeli flags in Indian-administered Kashmir.

In Jordan police fired teargas at angry protesters to prevent them from approaching the Israeli embassy in the capital Amman after weekly Muslim Friday prayers.

A leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, Bulent Gedikli, said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "deserved a pair of shoes to be thrown at him," referring to an incident last month when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at President George W. Bush.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reiterated that Israel was not yet ready for a truce after talks in Paris on Thursday with President Nicolas Sarkozy and other French leaders.

"The question of whether it's enough or not will be the result of our assessment on a daily basis," she said.

Peace moves were also stalled at the UN Security Council.

Olmert, Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak held talks well into the night and planned to pursue discussions over the weekend, Olmert's office said.

A majority of the Israeli public is supporting the Gaza offensive, with some 95 percent of Jewish residents backing the air strikes according to a survey published on Friday in the Maariv daily.


Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 02:14:42 pm








                                   Civilians take brunt of 7th day of Gaza offensive








(http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/nm/20090102/2009_01_02t144414_450x315_us_palestinians_israel.jpg?x=400&y=280&q=85&sig=whhCRNIl_s35Qzi96bYa6A--)

A Palestinian kisses the head of Christian Palestinian,
Christine Turk, during her funeral in Deir al-Laten …


GAZA
(Reuters)
Jan. 2, 2009

– The civilian death toll climbed in Israel's air offensive against the Gaza Strip on Friday and Palestinian Islamists vowed revenge for the killing of a senior Hamas leader and his family.

There was no sign of a ceasefire on the seventh day of the conflict, in which at least 425 Palestinians have been killed and 2,000 wounded, but a Palestinian official told Reuters that Egypt had begun exploratory talks with Hamas to halt the bloodshed.

The senior Palestinian official, who declined to be named and who has been close to previous talks between Egypt and Hamas, said the aim of the talks included promoting ideas that would culminate in a new truce.

Four Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza, which strike southern cities and towns at random and cause property damage and panic among the local population.

A United Nations agency said the civilian death toll in Gaza was over 25 percent of the total killed in the violence. A leading Palestinian human rights group put it at 40 percent.

Of six Palestinians reported killed on Friday in more than 30 Israeli air strikes, five were civilians, local medics said.

One missile killed three Palestinian children aged between eight and 12 as they played on a street near the town of Khan Yunis in the south of the strip. One was decapitated.

"These injuries are not survivable injuries," said Madth Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor at Gaza's Shifa hospital who could not save a boy who had both feet blown off. "This is a murder. This is a child," he said.

Islamist fighters earlier fired rockets at Israel's ancient port of Ashkelon, one of which blew out windows in an apartment building. Another house took a direct hit from a long-range missile later in the day, and cars were set ablaze.

Gaza militants mourning a hardline cleric Hamas leader killed by an air strike on Thursday along with his four wives and 11 children said all options including suicide bombings were now open to "strike at Zionist interests everywhere."


Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 02:17:56 pm








A FEW ESCAPE



Israel's armored forces remained massed on the Gaza frontier in preparation for a possible ground invasion, despite international calls for a halt to the conflict. An Israeli naval vessel lying offshore fired at a greenhouse in southern Gaza.

Israeli leaders were in conference on Friday evening and media reports said they were discussing an "imminent" incursion.

The White House said on Friday that Israel must decide for itself whether to go into the Gaza Strip with ground forces, but it cautioned any actions should avoid civilian casualties and ensure the flow of humanitarian goods.

In Gaza City, a few hundred foreign passport holders boarded buses in the pre-dawn murk to quit the Strip, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross, their governments and Israeli compliance.

"The situation is very bad. We are afraid for our children," said Ilona Hamdiya, a woman from Moldova married to a Palestinian. "We are very grateful to our embassy."

They left behind 1.5 million Palestinians unable to escape the conflict, a city facing another day of bombs, missiles, flickering electricity, queues for bread, taped-up windows and streets littered with broken glass and debris.

"We will not rest until we destroy the Zionist entity," said Hamas leader Fathi Hammad at the funeral of Nizar Rayyan, the cleric who was killed along with his family.

The bearded Rayyan, who mentored suicide bombers and sent one of his sons on a "martyrdom" mission, was the highest ranking Hamas official to be killed in the current offensive. He had called loudly for bombings in Israeli cities.

Hamas spokesman Ismail Rudwan said that "following this crime, all options are now open including martyrdom operations to deter the aggression and to strike Zionist interests everywhere ... killing begets killing and destruction begets destruction."


Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 02:20:21 pm








PROTESTS AND CLASHES



Bracing for protests and retaliatory violence, Israel sealed off the occupied West Bank to deny entry to most Palestinians and beefed up security at checkpoints.

There were protests by Palestinians in West Bank cities. In Ramallah, Hamas supporters scuffled with the Fatah faction of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, taunting them as collaborators. Elsewhere, protesters stoned soldiers at checkpoints and some were wounded by rubber bullets.

In the Jordanian capital, Amman, riot police fired teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters marching on the Israeli embassy, chanting: "No Jewish embassy on Arab land."

Late on Thursday, Israeli warplanes bombed the Jabalya mosque. Israeli security officials said it was a meeting place and command post for Hamas militants. It said the large number of secondary explosions after the strike indicated that rockets, missiles and other weapons had been stored there.

Nine mosques have had been hit since last Saturday.

"I will pray at home. You never know, they may bomb the mosque and destroy it on our heads," said one man buying hummus from a street stand.

Another was defiant: "What better than to die while kneeling before God?" he said.



(Additional reporting by
Adam Entous,
Allyn Fisher-Ilan and
Ori Lewis in Jerusalem,

Writing by
Douglas Hamilton;

Editing by
Angus MacSwan and
Charles Dick)


Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 02:21:37 pm
(http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/nm/20090102/2009_01_02t050404_450x282_us_palestinians_israel.jpg?x=400&y=250&q=85&sig=IJZ661COCguj1EAf6zNT1g--)

                                                      (http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/nm/20090102/2009_01_02t010918_450x300_us_palestinians_israel.jpg?x=400&y=266&q=85&sig=ocQ8nkgsW5dSF8Epb8mGzQ--)


Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 02:27:22 pm
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Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 02:30:21 pm
(http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/nm/20090102/2009_01_02t043120_450x304_us_palestinians_israel.jpg?x=400&y=269&q=85&sig=qXJdP1wpG8wRz9ag0SCdbA--)

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Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 02, 2009, 02:33:33 pm
(http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20090102/capt.c8ba352347cb4b20852067c3fbd4aa91.mideast_israel_palestinians_jrl185.jpg?x=400&y=265&q=85&sig=oHR.IkDgVJFi_2ZHSiWASw--)

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Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 03, 2009, 07:19:55 am








                                 Week Two of Israeli blitz on Gaza with no end in sight


     



Dec. 3, 2009
GAZA CITY
(AFP)

– Missiles demolished a school in Gaza on Saturday as the Israeli assault on Hamas entered its second week, with truce bids stalled and Islamists vowing a "black destiny" if ground troops move in.

Concern rose over the humanitarian situation in one of the world's most densely populated and impoverished places where the vast majority of the population depends on foreign aid.

With international efforts to reach a ceasefire stalled, anger in the Muslim world has spiralled and protests against one of Israel's deadliest ever assaults on Gaza have mushroomed around the globe.

The United States gave its close ally free rein to press ahead with a threatened ground offensive into Gaza , saying the key to a truce was Israel's demand that Hamas permanently stop firing rockets.

"I think any steps they are taking, whether it's from the air or on the ground or anything of that nature, are part and parcel of the same operation," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

"Those will be decisions made by the Israelis."

Hamas's Syria-based chief Khaled Meshaal told Israel that "if you commit the stupidity of launching a ground offensive then a black destiny awaits you.

"You will soon find out that Gaza is the wrath of God," he said in pre-taped remarks broadcast on Al-Jazeera television late on Friday.

President George W. Bush, meanwhile, urged all able parties to press Hamas to stop firing at Israel to facilitate a lasting ceasefire.

"The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meaningful ceasefire that is fully respected," Bush said in his weekly Saturday radio address, the text of which was released late on Friday.

"I urge all parties to pressure Hamas to turn away from terror, and to support legitimate Palestinian leaders working for peace."

Bush blamed Hamas for the latest violence and rejected a unilateral ceasefire that would allow the Islamists to continue targeting Israel with rocket and mortar fire.

On the ground, Israeli tanks and troops stood ready along the 60-kilometre (37-mile) border with Gaza, waiting for the green light from the government to advance.

Since unleashing "Operation Cast Lead" in retaliation for consistent rocket fire from Gaza on December 27, at least 436 Palestinians have been killed and 2,290 wounded in some 750 strikes carried out by air and sea, Israeli officials said.

At least 75 of those killed have been children, according to emergency services inside Gaza.

The strikes have demolished Hamas government buildings, the homes of senior Islamist officials, mosques alleged to have stored weapons, roads and tunnels used to smuggle arms and supplies into the territory that Israel has virtually kept sealed since Hamas seized power there in June 2007.

But the offensive has failed to halt rocket fire from the territory, with militants firing some 500 rocke ts and mortar rounds at Israel over the past week, killing four people and wounding several dozen others.

In the latest 25 raids carried out overnight and early on Saturday, missiles demolished a school in northern Gaza, killing a guard in a strike the army said targeted "a college used as a base for firing a large number of rockets."

Missiles also slammed into Gaza City port and a strike killed Mohammad al-Jammal, 40, who sources in Gaza said was a local commander of Hamas's armed wing.

The Israeli military said Jammal was responsible "for the entire rocket launching enterprise in all of Gaza City."

Militants responded overnight with seven rockets and mortar rounds without causing any casualties, the army said.

The Israeli bombardment has demolished dozens of houses as it destroyed Hamas infrastructure amid heightened concern over the humanitarian situation in besieged Gaza, where most of the 1.5 million residents depend on foreign aid.

"By any definition this is a humanitarian crisis and more," said Maxwell Gaylard, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile French President Nicolas Sarkozy was due to arrive in Israel on Monday for ceasefire talks, a day after the arrival of foreign ministers from current European Union president the Czech Republic, Sweden and France.


Title: Re: Israel Destroys Gaza Homes, Flattens Mosque - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 03, 2009, 03:01:44 pm








                                       Israeli ground forces enter Gaza in escalation
     





Ibrahim Barzak And
Jason Keyser,
Associated Press Writers
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip
Jan. 3, 2009

– Israeli tanks and infantry entered Gaza after nightfall Saturday, launching a ground offensive that the military said would be a "lengthy operation" in a widening war on Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Israeli security officials said the operation is likely to go on for several days, but that the objective is not to reoccupy Gaza. The depth and intensity will also depend on parallel diplomatic efforts, the officials on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.

"We have many, many targets," Israeli military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich told CNN, adding that Hamas has been digging smuggling tunnels and other facilities. "To my estimation, it will be a lengthy operation," she said.

"The goal is to try and take over some of the those launching areas that were responsible for the many launches, thousands of launches in fact, toward Israeli civilians," she said. "The civilians are not our target. We are looking only after militants. Hamas militants."

Heavy gun battles were reported as Israeli tanks and infantry soldiers entered Gaza after dark. The forces stayed close to the border area, witnesses said. Heavy artillery fire hit east of Gaza City in areas where Hamas fighters were deployed.

A text message sent by Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, said "the Zionists started approaching the trap which our fighters prepared for them."

Before the ground operation began, defense officials said around 10,000 soldiers massed along the border in recent days. Heavy artillery fire in the early evening was intended to detonate Hamas explosive devices and mines planted along the border area before troops marched in.

It was not immediately clear how deep into Gaza the Israeli forces would go.

Israel's offensive against Hamas began with a week of aerial bombardment of Hamas target. However, Hamas kept firing at Israeli towns, and Israeli officials said diplomatic efforts did not produced a satisfactory plan so far to guarantee a halt to rockets.

Israel had held off on a ground offensive, in part because of concern about casualties among Israeli troops.

Hamas leaders have warned that they have prepared a violent welcome. They have also threatened to resume suicide attacks inside Israel.

The Israelis were also backed by helicopter gunships.

The first week of fighting had claimed more than 460 Palestinians lives, while four Israelis were killed by rocket fire. Gaza is densely populated, and intense urban warfare was likely to get much deadlier.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 04, 2009, 09:55:32 am








                                 Gazan civilians increasingly at risk in assault on Hamas





BBC
Tel Aviv –
Jan. 4, 2009

On the fourth day of airstrikes in Gaza Tuesday, one of Israel's many targets was a Hamas military commander's home within the teeming Jabaliya refugee camp. He wasn't there, but seven civilians died as a result of that attack.

Until now Israel has targeted mainly Hamas offices, ministries, and centers of power in a bid to limit collateral damage while still crippling the Islamists' ability to fire rockets across the border. But as the conflict stretches on and Israeli warplanes and drones seek out Hamas commanders and other militant leaders hiding in neighborhoods in the densely packed coastal strip, it will be harder to contain civilian deaths.

So far Israel has been relatively successful at zeroing in on targets and avoiding civilian casualties. It has run 400 sorties since the start of the conflict Saturday in an enclave about twice the size of Washington, D.C. Of the more than 370 Palestinians killed, at least 64 have been civilians, according to the United Nations.

Israeli military tacticians are all too aware that if civilian casualties climb too high, international pressure can end an otherwise carefully executed attack. It happened in the 2006 Lebanon war when Israel's allies could no longer tolerate the loss of innocent life. It's a metric that is callous yet at the forefront of modern Middle Eastern warfare.

"The more Israel's enemies are non state actors like Hamas, the more warfare has changed. The name of the game in warfare now is how to win the urban war, and that creates a whole new set of challenges," says David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute.

"Israel is always going to try to thread the needle, to hit those that hit them, but to try to avoid the loss of civilian life," he says.

Military experts dryly call it "collateral damage," a term referring to injured bystanders or property uninvolved in combat. Human rights advocates counter that the concept sanitizes the unavoidable costs of war.

Because Israel no longer faces conventional forces but smaller guerrilla armies in civilian areas, the mismatched fight has altered the nature of battle. The challenges are similar to those faced by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Tuesday morning, Palestinians reported that two young sisters from the Gazan farming village of Beit Hanoun were killed in one of the Israel air attacks – an example of just the kind of "collateral damage" that can turn the tables on the military and shorten a campaign.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said that the military is looking into the report, noting that the army tries to avoid civilian casualties.

Hamas says that it has fired more than 250 rockets and mortars on Israel since the offensive began and Israel reports that 40 were fired Tuesday. Three Israeli civilians and one soldier have been killed so far in rocket fire from Gaza militants.

Minimizing civilian casualties in Gaza requires "a combination of excellent intelligence, very accurate weapons systems, and very good planning that takes into account collateral damage," says Shlomo Brom, a former brigadier general who headed the Israeli army's strategic planning division.

Military planners rely on systems that integrate electro-optical, laser-guided, and global positioning technology, he says. So far, "the air operations are brilliant," but, he added, "mistakes are bound to happen and they will happen in this war."

Just such a mistake occurred in the third week of Israel's 2006 battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon, when the Israeli air force bombed a three-story building in the village of Qana and killed dozens of people, mostly children.

Described as an Israeli "massacre" by the Lebanese, the attack ratcheted up pressure for a cease-fire and became part of the well-orchestrated Hezbollah propaganda campaign that accompanied its fight with Israel. Israel was also accused of targeting civilians by using cluster bombs in the final days of the war even though Israel says it used them in accordance with international law.

Human Rights Watch, however, charges that Israel breached prohibitions by dropping cluster bombs in a civilian area.

In Gaza six years ago, the air force was accused of knowingly targeting civilians when it dropped a one-ton bomb on the hideout of Salah Shahade, a Hamas commander. The blast killed 15 civilians, including Mr. Shahde's wife and nine children.

"They are not intending to kill civilians, I believe that," says Iyad Sarraj, a Gazan human rights activist who heads the Gaza Community Mental Health Center. "But at the same time, if they have a target, and some civilians are in the vicinity, it doesn't matter. They have to hit the target anyway. Add to this that they are not 100 percent accurate."

Mr. Sarraj says that a friend and his family were almost left for dead after their house was buried in the rubble from an the Israeli air force attack on a neighboring multistory building.

To be sure, the debate over civilian casualties is littered with political, moral, and emotional land mines. Israelis claim the high ground by arguing that even though they fight terrorists who deliberately target civilians, they try to uphold a spirit of "purity of arms" by avoiding civilian casualties as much as possible.

Critics counter that by putting Palestinian towns under blockade and going after militants in civilian areas, Israel makes noncombantants targets.

For Ziad Koraz, whose nearby home was damaged in the attack on the government compound Tuesday, that violence gratuitously puts Gazan civilians at risk, the Associated Press reported.

"More than 17 missiles were directed at an empty government compound, without regard for civilians who lived nearby," Mr. Koraz said. "If someone committed a crime, they should go after him, not after an entire nation."


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 04, 2009, 10:04:55 am








                                          Gaza civilians left exposed in Israeli invasion
     





Associated Press Writers
Ibrahim Barzak And
Ben Hubbard
Jan. 4, 2008
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip

– With booms from artillery and airstrikes keeping them awake, the 10 members of Lubna Karam's family spent the night huddled in the hallway of their Gaza City home.

Earlier strikes shattered the living room windows, letting cold air pour in. The Karams haven't had electricity for a week and have run out of cooking gas. The family, including three small children younger than four, eats cold, canned beans.

"It's war food," said Karam, 28. "What else can we do?"

As Israel's offensive against Hamas moves from pinpointed airstrikes to ground fighting and artillery shelling, Gaza's civilians are increasingly exposed. Some two dozen civilians were killed within hours after the start of Israel's ground invasion Saturday night.

Israel says eight days of aerial bombardment, followed by the ground invasion, seek to undermine Hamas' ability to fire rockets at the Jewish state. So far, more than 500 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed. Palestinian and U.N. officials say at least 100 Palestinian civilians are among the dead.

The ground offensives will put Israeli solders, Gaza militants and civilians in much closer quarters.

The guiding principle of Israel's ground invasion is to move in with full force and try to minimize Israeli casualties, Israeli military correspondent Alex Fishman wrote in the daily Yediot Ahronoth. "We'll pay the international price later for the collateral damage and the anticipated civilian casualties," Fishman said.

While Israeli said its airstrikes have targeted only Hamas installations and leaders, some of the bombs were so powerful that they destroyed or damaged adjacent houses.

Karam said she always felt under threat. She said her family didn't sleep. "We keep hearing the sounds of airplanes and we don't know if we'll live until tomorrow, or not," she said.

Anas Mansour, 21, a resident of the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border, said he and his family may try to leave the area later Sunday. Mansour said he was sleeping in his clothes, with his identification cards in his pocket in case he had to flee quickly.

He said he could see his neighbor loading a donkey cart with mattresses and blankets to leave, but hadn't yet decided if he'd do the same. "Where can we go? It's all the same," Mansour said.

Deprivation is nothing new in Gaza, but the Israeli-led blockade of the territory has grown increasingly tighter over the past two months, making cooking gas and many foods scare.

Adding to that, last week's bombings damaged the strip's sanitary and electrical infrastructure, leaving many residents without power and water, and most shops are now shuttered.

"When there was a siege, we kept taking about a catastrophe," said Hatem Shurrab, 24, of Gaza City. "But then the airstrikes started, and now we don't even know what word to use. There's no word in the dictionary that can describe the situation we are in."

___

Hubbard reported from Ramallah.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 04, 2009, 10:16:35 am








                                                      Why Israel went to war in Gaza






Chris McGreal
 in Jerusalem
The Observer,
Sunday 4 January 2009

'Are you a target if you voted for Hamas?' Last night Israel sent its ground forces across the border into Gaza as it escalated its brutal assault on Hamas. As a large-scale invasion of the Palestinian territory appears to be getting under way, Chris McGreal reports from Jerusalem on Israel's hidden strategy to persuade the world of the justice of its cause in its battle with a bitter ideological foe.

It is a war on two fronts. Months ago, as Israel prepared to unleash its latest wave of desolation against Gaza, it recognised that blasting Hamas and "the infrastructure of terror", which includes police stations, homes and mosques, was a straightforward task.

Israel also understood that a parallel operation would be required to persuade the rest of the world of the justice of its cause, even as the bodies of Palestinian women and children filled the mortuaries, and to ensure that its war was seen not in terms of occupation but of the west's struggle against terror and confrontation with Iran.

After the debacle of its 2006 invasion of Lebanon - not only a military disaster for Israel, but also a political and diplomatic one - the government in Tel Aviv spent months laying the groundwork at home and abroad for the assault on Gaza with quiet but energetic lobbying of foreign administrations and diplomats, particularly in Europe and parts of the Arab world.

A new information directorate was established to influence the media, with some success. And when the attack began just over a week ago, a tide of diplomats, lobby groups, bloggers and other supporters of Israel were unleashed to hammer home a handful of carefully crafted core messages intended to ensure that Israel was seen as the victim, even as its bombardment killed more than 430 Palestinians over the past week, at least a third of them civilians or policemen.

The unrelenting attack on Gaza, with an air strike every 20 minutes on average, has not stopped Hamas firing rockets that have killed four Israelis since the assault began, reaching deeper into the Jewish state than ever before and sending tens of thousands of people fleeing. Last night Israel escalated its action further, as its troops poured across Gaza's border, part of what appeared to be a significant ground invasion. And a diplomatic operation is already in full swing to justify the further cost in innocent lives that would almost certainly result.

Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the UN until a few months ago, was brought in by the Foreign Ministry to help lead the diplomatic and PR campaign. He said that the diplomatic and political groundwork has been under way for months.

"This was something that was planned long ahead," he said. "I was recruited by the foreign minister to coordinate Israel's efforts and I have never seen all parts of a very complex machinery - whether it is the Foreign Ministry, the Defence Ministry, the prime minister's office, the police or the army - work in such co-ordination, being effective in sending out the message."

In briefings in Jerusalem and London, Brussels and New York, the same core messages were repeated: that Israel had no choice but to attack in response to the barrage of Hamas rockets; that the coming attack would be on "the infrastructure of terror" in Gaza and the targets principally Hamas fighters; that civilians would die, but it was because Hamas hides its fighters and weapons factories among ordinary people.

Hand in hand went a strategy to remove the issue of occupation from discussion. Gaza was freed in 2005 when the Jewish settlers and army were pulled out, the Israelis said. It could have flourished as the basis of a Palestinian state, but its inhabitants chose conflict.

Israel portrayed Hamas as part of an axis of Islamist fundamentalist evil with Iran and Hezbollah. Its actions, the Israelis said, are nothing to do with continued occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza or the Israeli military's continued killing of large numbers of Palestinians since the pullout. "Israel is part of the free world and fights extremism and terrorism. Hamas is not," the foreign minister and Kadima party leader, Tzipi Livni, said on arriving in France as part of the diplomatic offensive last week.

Earlier in the week Livni deployed the "with us or against us" rhetoric of George W Bush's war on terror. "These are the days when every individual in the region and in the world has to choose a side. And the sides have changed. No longer is it Israel on one side and the Arab world on the other," she said. "Israel chose its side the day it was established; the Jewish people chose its side during its thousands of years of existence; and the prayer for peace is the voice sounded in the synagogues."

It was a message pumped home with receptive Arab governments, such as Egypt and Jordan, which view Hamas with hostility. "Large parts of the Muslim and Arab world realise that Hamas represents a greater danger to them even than it does to Israel. Its extremism, its fundamentalism, is a great danger to them as well," said Gillerman. "We've seen the effect of that in numerous responses, in the public statements made by [Egypt's] President Mubarak and even by [Palestinian president] Mahmoud Abbas and other Arabs. This is totally unprecedented."

Indeed, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said his government knew exactly what was coming: "The signs that Israel was determined to strike Hamas in Gaza for the past three months were clear. They practically wrote it in the sky. Unfortunately they [Hamas] served Israel the opportunity on a golden platter."

Also crucial was what was not said. Just a few months ago Livni was talking of wiping out Hamas, but that would be unpalatable to much of the outside world as a justification for the assault. So now the talk is of pressing Gaza's government to agree to a new ceasefire. Occasionally someone has got off-message. A couple of days into the assault on Gaza, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, said it would continue for "as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely". Infuriated Israeli officials in Jerusalem warned her that such statements could set back the diplomatic offensive.

In the first hours of the attack, Israel repeated the same messages to the wider world. Livni and the Labour defence minister, Ehud Barak, were widely quoted on international TV. The government's national information directorate sought to focus foreign media attention on the 8,500 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the past eight years and the 20 civilians they have killed, rather than the punishing blockade of Gaza and the 1,700 Palestinians killed in Israeli military attacks since Jewish settlers were pulled out of Gaza three years ago.

Lobby groups, such as the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (Bicom) in London and the Israel Project in America, were mobilised. They arranged briefings, conference calls and interviews. The Israeli military posted video footage on YouTube. Israeli diplomats in New York arranged a two-hour "citizens' press conference" on Twitter for thousands of people. At the same time, Israel in effect barred foreign journalists from witnessing the results of its strategy.

Livni has suggested that Israel's assault is good for the Palestinians by helping to free them from the grip of Hamas. "She's basically trying to convince me that they're doing this for my own good," said Diana Buttu, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's legal counsel and negotiator with the Israelis over the 2005 pullout from Gaza. "I've had some Israeli friends reiterate the same thing: 'You should be happy that we're rooting out Hamas. They're a problem for you, too.' I don't need her to tell me what's good for me and what's bad for me, and I don't think carrying out a massacre is good for anybody."

And when the killing started, Israel claimed that the overwhelming majority of the 400-plus killed were Hamas fighters and the buildings destroyed part of the infrastructure of terror. But about a third of the dead were policemen. Although the police force in Gaza is run by Hamas, Buttu said Israel is misrepresenting it as a terrorist organisation.

"The police force is largely used for internal law and order, traffic, the drug trade. They weren't fighters. They hit them at a graduation ceremony. Israel wants to kill anyone associated with Hamas, but where does it stop? Are you a legitimate target if you work in the civil service? Are you a legitimate target if you voted for Hamas?" she said.

Similarly, while Israel accuses Hamas of risking civilian lives by hiding the infrastructure of terror in ordinary neighbourhoods, many of the Israeli missile targets are police stations and other public buildings that are unlikely to be built anywhere else.

Israel argues that Hamas abandoned the June ceasefire that Tel Aviv was prepared to continue. "Israel is the first one who wants the violence to end. We were not looking for this. There was no other option. The truce was violated by Hamas," said Livni.

However, others say that the truce was thrown into jeopardy in November when the Israeli military killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid on Gaza. The Palestinians noted that it was election day in the US, so most of the rest of the world did not notice what happened. Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into Israel. Six more Palestinians died in two other Israeli attacks in the following week.

"They were assaulting Gaza militarily, by sea and by air, all through the ceasefire," said Buttu. Neither did the killing of Palestinians stop. In the nearly three years since Hamas came to power, and before the latest assault on Gaza, Israel forces had killed about 1,300 people in Gaza and the West Bank. While a significant number of them were Hamas activists - and while hundreds of Palestinians have been killed by other Palestinians in fighting between Hamas and Fatah - there has been a disturbing number of civilian deaths.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights says that one in four of the victims is aged under 18. Between June 2007 and June 2008, Israeli attacks killed 68 Palestinian children and young people in Gaza. Another dozen were killed in the West Bank.

In February, an Israeli missile killed four boys, aged eight to 14, playing football in the street in Jabalia. In April, Meyasar Abu-Me'tiq and her four children, aged one to five years old, were killed when an Israeli missile hit their house as they were having breakfast. Even during the ceasefire, Israel killed 22 people in Gaza, including two children and a woman.

Perhaps crucial to the ceasefire's collapse were the differing views of what it was supposed to achieve. Israel regarded the truce as calm in return for calm. Hamas expected Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza that the latter said was a security response to the firing of Qassam rockets.

But Israel did not end the siege that was wrecking the economy and causing desperate shortages of food, fuel and medicine. Gazans concluded that the blockade was not so much about rocket attacks as punishment for voting for Hamas.

Central to the Israeli message has been that, when it pulled out its military and Jewish settlers three years ago, Gaza was offered the opportunity to prosper. "In order to create a vision of hope, we took out our forces and settlements, but instead of Gaza being the beginning of a Palestinian state, Hamas established an extreme Islamic rule," said Livni. Israeli officials argue that Hamas, and by extension the people who elected it, was more interested in hating and killing Jews than building a country.

Palestinians see it differently. Buttu says that from the day the Israelis withdrew from Gaza, they set about ensuring that it would fail economically. "When the Israelis pulled out, we expected that the Palestinians in Gaza would at least be able to lead some sort of free life. We expected that the crossing points would be open. We didn't expect that we would have to beg to allow food in," she said.

Buttu notes that even before Hamas was elected three years ago, the Israelis were already blockading Gaza. The Palestinians had to appeal to US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and James Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank, to pressure Israel to allow even a few score of trucks into Gaza each day. Israel agreed, then reneged. "This was before Hamas won the election. The whole Israeli claim is one big myth. If there wasn't already a closure policy, why did we need Rice and Wolfensohn to try to broker an agreement?" asked Buttu.

Yossi Alpher, a former official in the Mossad intelligence service and an ex-adviser on peace negotiations to the then prime minister, Ehud Barak, said the blockade of Gaza is a failed strategy that might have strengthened Hamas. "I don't think anyone can produce clear evidence that the blockade has been counterproductive, but it certainly hasn't been productive. It's very possible it's been counterproductive. It's collective punishment, humanitarian suffering. It has not caused Palestinians in Gaza to behave the way we want them to, so why do it?" he said. "I think people really believed that, if you starved Gazans, they will get Hamas to stop the attacks. It's repeating a failed policy, mindlessly."


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 04, 2009, 10:24:38 am









                                       Worldwide alarm at Israeli ground offensive
     





Jan. 4, 2009
PARIS
(AFP)

– Israel's tank and troop assault on the Gaza Strip unleashed worldwide cries of alarm on Sunday, but Israel won heavyweight US backing and moves for an immediate ceasefire foundered at the United Nations.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown echoed grave European concerns when he said the ground offensive was a "very dangerous moment" in the conflict, and he called for increased efforts to rapidly secure a ceasefire.

The offensive was condemned across the Middle East, with Egypt saying the UN Security Council's silence on Israel's eight-day campaign of air strikes had effectively given Israel "a green light" for the ground assault.

Asian nations expressed alarm, too, with Pakistan and China calling for an immediate end to the assault and Muslims in Indonesia urging war against the Jewish state.

But in New York, the Security Council failed to agree on a statement calling for a ceasefire after the United States argued that a return to the situation that existed before Israel's ground invasion was unacceptable.

US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said after the four-hour sitting that Washington believed it was important that the region "not return to the status quo" that had allowed Hamas militants to fire rockets into Israel.

"The efforts we are making internationally are designed to establish a sustainable, durable ceasefire that's respected by all," Wolff said. "And that means no more rocket attacks. It means no more smuggling of arms."

As thousands of Israeli soldiers and scores of tanks pushed into Gaza Sunday, the British prime minister said assurances needed to be given to both the Israelis and Hamas to secure a ceasefire.

"I think everybody around the world is expressing grave concerns. What we've got to do almost immediately is to work harder than we've done for an immediate ceasefire," Brown said on BBC television.

"I can see the Gaza issues for the Palestinians -- that they need humanitarian aid -- but the Israelis must have some assurance that there are no rocket attacks coming into Israel," he said.

"So first we need an immediate ceasefire, and that includes a stopping of the rockets into Israel."

Russia dispatched President Dmitry Medvedev's special envoy for the Middle East, Alexander Saltanov, to the region, hoping it could help bring about a ceasefire.

"The new dangerous escalation in the armed conflict after the start of the Israeli land operation in Gaza is a matter of extreme concern," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"It is essential, without delay, to put an end to the suffering of the civilian population on both sides, to stop the bloodshed and secure a mutual ceasefire."

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said European nations stand ready to contribute international monitors to help keep the peace.

"The ceasefire has to be a ceasefire complied (with) by everybody and be clearly maintained," Solana told the BBC.

At least 23 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel's ground offensive began on Saturday, medics said Sunday.

In total, more than 485 Palestinians have died, including 80 children, with more than 2,500 wounded according to Gaza medics since Israeli military operations began on December 27.

Rocket fire from Gaza over the same period has killed four Israelis.

European reaction to the ground offensive revealed a sharp difference in tone from the official US line.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the decision to send troops into Gaza was a "dangerous military escalation".

The European Union's new Czech presidency said Israel's ground operation was more "defensive than offensive", although it said Israel did not have the right to take military actions "which largely affect civilians".

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Israel's incursion into the impoverished territory was in "brazen defiance" of international calls to end the offensive -- and he blamed the Security Council for failing to act.

"The Security Council's silence and its failure to take a decision to stop Israel's aggression since it began was interpreted by Israel as a green light," he said.

In Asia, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the Israeli offensive was "unjustified" and called for an immediate halt to the fighting.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso warned that Israel's ground offensive would only aggravate difficulties for all concerned.

"I'm very worried that the dispatch of ground troops will make the situation much worse," he said.

There was outrage in Africa as well.

Senegalese Pesident Abdoulaye Wade, who also holds the presidency of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, called the Israeli ground offensive a "flagrant violation of the most elementary principles of international law".


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 04, 2009, 10:27:42 am








                                    Israel says world understands its actions in Gaza






Jan. 4, 2009
PARIS
(AFP)

– The international community understands Israel's reasons for launching an offensive in the Gaza Strip that will continue until Hamas halts rocket attacks, an Israeli government spokesman said Sunday.

"There is on an international level much understanding of the fact that we are exercising our legitimate right to self-defence against attacks perpetrated from the territory of Gaza by Hamas terrorists," said Avi Pazner in an interview to French radio Europe 1.

The spokesman noted that the new Czech presidency of the European Union had described Israel's ground operation as "more defensive than offensive" although France condemned the land offensive launched Saturday.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek made the comment but Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg later added: "Even the indisputable right of the state to defend itself does not allow actions which largely affect civilians."

Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza after a week of air strikes to halt rocket attacks by Hamas, the Palestinian group that seized control of the territory in June 2007.

More than 485 Palestinians have died and 2,400 wounded since the start of the Israeli campaign on December 27, according to medics in Gaza.

"We do intend to continue this operation until we manage to silence these missiles and rockets and completely change the security situation in the south of our country," added Pazner.

The UN Security Council failed to agree a statement calling for a ceasefire despite nearly four hours of closed-door consultations late on Saturday.

The Palestinian Authority's envoy to the European Union, Leila Shahid, separately said Europe's credibility was on the line in the drive to reach a ceasefire and suggested the 27-nation EU should consider sanctions.

"There must be an international initiative and the visit of the European delegation and of President Sarkozy offers the best prospect" for this, Shahid told Europe 1.

"Europe's credibility is on the line," she said.

An EU delegation comprised of the French, Swedish and Czech foreign ministers was due in Egypt on Sunday for talks on ending the violence ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's mission to the region.

"You are not going to convince me that the EU cannot demand a ceasefire from Israel," said Shahid. "It is obvious that we need a tougher stance and if needed, sanctions."

Sarkozy will travel to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak before heading to Ramallah to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The French president will hold talks in Jerusalem later Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert whose government has rejected a French call for a 48-hour humanitarian truce.

On Tuesday, he travels to Syria for talks with President Bashar al-Assad and to Lebanon to visit French troops serving in a UN force in south Lebanon.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 04, 2009, 10:32:08 am



(http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/nm/20090104/2009_01_04t022435_450x299_us_palestinians_israel.jpg?x=400&y=266&q=85&sig=6ygZF6.hKNMgvScaDS5Stw--)





                                                       Gaza death toll passes 500




     

GAZA CITY
(AFP)
Jan. 4, 2009

– At least 500 Palestinians have died in Israel's nine-day offensive on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip,
medics said on Sunday


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 04, 2009, 08:48:29 pm
(http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20090104/capt.44009ad4c32a4a1dae7a817a6991af27.aptopix_mideast_israel_palestinians_jrl191.jpg?x=400&y=283&q=85&sig=EGjhwuoll5Ast4xadk5qKQ--)

Palestinians carry a boy into Shifa hospital in Gaza City, wounded during the Israeli army operation …

GAZA CITY,









                                                       Fear, shortages for civilians caught in Gaza fight
     





IBRAHIM BARZAK and
BEN HUBBARD,
DEC 4, 2009
AP
GAZA CITY

– Anas Mansour sleeps in his street clothes in a south Gaza refugee camp, with his ID in his pocket so he can flee quickly if fighting gets worse. In Gaza City, the 10 members of the Karam family huddle in their hallway at night, kept awake by artillery fire booming outside.

And in the central Gaza refugee camp of Nusseirat, Munir Najar said he only had another day's worth of flour to feed his family of seven, but ventured out to find streets deserted and shops closed.

"There's not a loaf of bread to be found," said Najar, 43.

As Israeli's offensive moved from pinpointed airstrikes to artillery shelling and ground fighting, Gaza's civilians are increasingly exposed to the violence. Since the ground assault began, 64 Palestinian civilians have been killed, said Dr. Moaiya Hassanain, a Health Ministry official.

More than 512 Palestinians have been killed since the operation began Dec. 27, at least 100 of them civilians, say Palestinian and U.N. officials. In the same period, three Israeli civilians and two soldiers have been killed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called Sunday on Israel and Hamas to stop killing and wounding civilians, citing international humanitarian law.

Israel says the offensive aims to stop Hamas from firing rockets at the Jewish state and its airstrikes target only Hamas installations and leaders, but bombs have also destroyed or damaged adjacent houses.

Lubna Karam, of Gaza City, said airstrikes had shattered her home's living room windows days before, letting cold air pour in. She said she feels under threat at all times, and her family has taken to sleeping in the hallway for safety.

"We keep hearing the sounds of airplanes and we don't know if we'll live until tomorrow or not," said Karam, 28.

Mansour, 21, of the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border, described watching his neighbor pile a mattress and blankets on a donkey cart to flee, but hadn't decided if he'd do the same. "Where can we go? It's all the same," Mansour said.

The latest fighting came at the end of an ever-tightening blockade of the seaside territory, imposed after the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007. The borders were virtually sealed in the last two months, leading to shortages of cooking gas and basic foodstuffs.

Israel says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, noting that it has continued to allow supplies into the territory.

But the Israeli human rights group Gisha said Israeli airstrikes have left Gaza's water and sewage system on the verge of collapse. About one-third of the 1.4 million residents are cut off from the water supply and 75 percent of Gaza is currently without electricity, including the territory's largest hospital, Shifa, the report said. Shifa has backup generators.

The Palestinian telephone company Paltel warned that Gaza's communications network has been extensively damaged by the Israeli strikes and is on the verge of collapse. The company added that three of its technicians had been killed and many injured in the fighting while trying to repair the network.

Adding to the shortages, last week's bombing further battered Gaza's infrastructure, making many feel that the situation they thought couldn't get any worse had done so.

"When there was a siege, we kept talking about a catastrophe," said Hatem Shurrab, 24, of Gaza City. "But then the airstrikes started, and now we don't even know what word to use. There's no word in the dictionary that can describe the situation we are in."

Hamas leaders have remained out of sight, but some Gazans remain ardent in their support, saying Israeli violence will rally Gazans around the group.

"They say Hamas is hiding in civilian places, but it's not that: We are Hamas," said Umm Bara, 25, of the Jebaliyah refugee camp. She gave only a nickname because many of her relatives are militants, she said. "After this (shelling), I'm so angry. My blood is Hamas and I want it to explode in their faces."

Others said life in Gaza inured them to violence and that they're trying to go on with their lives.

Even as Israeli troops operated two kilometers (one mile) from Sulafa Odeh's home in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, the 25-year-old translator walked through an orchard to a neighbor's house to see if it had power so she could plug in her laptop.

Odeh said the ground-shaking explosions frightened her, but that she refused to stay indoors.

"It's a problem: This is strange, and frightening, but we have gotten used to it," Odeh said. "Unfortunately, we are used to this life."

___




Hubbard reported from Ramallah.
Additional reporting by Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 04, 2009, 09:02:42 pm









                                 Israeli army moves on Gaza City as war toll passes 510





     
Email IM Share
Mai Yaghi
Dec. 4, 2009
GAZA CITY,
(AFP)

– Tens of thousands of Israeli troops battled Hamas fighters in Gaza early on Monday amid tank, artillery and air strikes, as the death toll from the offensive to end rocket attacks passed 510.

Israeli forces moved into the fringes of Gaza City as families fled or hid on the second night of combat.

The Israeli government fought off intense international pressure over its biggest military operation since its 2006 war in Lebanon, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy due in the region, as well as Russian and EU delegations.

At least 70 Palestinians have been killed since the ground offensive began on Saturday night, Gaza medics said.

Israel said one soldier was killed by a mortar shell and another 19 were wounded, bringing the total to 49 since the beginning of the incursion.

Columns of troops and tanks surrounded Gaza City and fighting was reported in outer districts.

Witnesses said tanks had cut off Gaza City and the far north from the rest of the strip, which would prevent the entry of arms, supplies and fighters from the south.

An AFP photographer said warplanes were also bombing targets in the southern border town of Rafah, where hundreds of tunnels are used to smuggle in supplies from Egypt.

The army declined to confirm or deny the reports.

Fierce clashes were also reported around the northern towns of Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanun and Jabaliya.

Moawiya Hassanein, head of Gaza medical emergency services, told AFP the number of Palestinians killed since the Israeli operation was launched on December 27 was now 512, including 87 children.

Five members of the same family died when a tank shell hit their car near Gaza City, emergency services said.

Three ambulance workers were killed when they were hit by a missile as they helped wounded victims of the conflict, medics said.

Aid groups said the offensive had aggravated a humanitarian crisis for the population, who have no electricity, no water and now face dire food shortages. Hospitals were only running on backup generators.

International efforts to halt the conflict sought new impetus after the UN Security Council failed to agree a statement on the conflict, with the United States giving strong backing to Israel.

Sarkozy was scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah on Monday, after first meeting his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo.

France hopes Egypt can rekindle its role as a mediator between Israel and Hamas.

In telephone talks with Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and a host of other foreign leaders, Olmert refused to call off the offensive, his office said.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, is heading a delegation to the Middle East, while Medvedev's Middle East envoy, Alexander Saltanov, was also on the way.

The European Union and Russia are both part of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, along with the United Nations and the United States.

Israel unleashed "Operation Cast Lead" on December 27 with the declared aim of ending rocket attacks on Israel that resumed after a six-month truce ended on December 19.

Rocket fire over the past week has killed four people in Israel. Thirty-two rockets and mortar rounds were fired across the border on Sunday and hit Sderot, Ashdod and other towns, lightly injuring three people.

Israel believes Hamas may be seeking "a respectable" way out of the conflict having underestimated the scope of the military offensive, Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog said.

He told CNN television Hamas was under "huge pressure" from the military operation.

"The intelligence reports that we've received today in the Israeli cabinet are that the Hamas is looking for a respectable way of finding a way to get out of this situation," he said.

Israeli army spokesman Avi Benayahu told public television "Hamas has come to the conclusion that it has made an enormous strategic error by refusing to extend a ceasefire accord."

Al-Jazeera television said a Hamas delegation would go to Cairo on Monday at Egypt's invitation, but Hamas officials could not be reached for confirmation.

The Israeli offensive has sparked spiralling anger in the Muslim world and protests across the globe .

Israeli troops shot and killed a protester during a demonstration in the West Bank. Tens of thousands of Turks staged an anti-Israeli rally in Istanbul.

Protesters threw rocks and eggs at police outside the Israeli embassy in Oslo and police responded with tear gas.

The UN Security Council failed to agree a statement calling for a ceasefire in closed-door consultations late on Saturday.

That drew expressions of regret from UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday, who said he would be working with key players to facilitate a consensus to bring about an end to the violence.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum condemned the Security Council action as "a farce" dominated by the United States, which has strongly supported Israel.

Egypt summoned the ambassadors of the UN Security Council's five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- to protest at the delay in passing a ceasefire resolution.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak condemned "in the strongest terms" Israel's ground attack which his office called a "terrifying aggression."


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 05, 2009, 07:05:00 pm











                                               Palestinian casualties overwhelm Gaza hospitals



                                                            Gaza peace pleas rejected






(http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20090105/capt.d9e2262bbe7a49228fdffbb03a45686b.mideast_israel_palestinians_jrl156.jpg?x=400&y=260&q=85&sig=CrFiPmpPR6OBpfaAOPeZdA--)Palestinians carry the bodies of three toddlers
Ahmed, Mohamed, and Issa Samouni



GAZA CITY,
Gaza
Jan 5, 2009
AP

— Israel ignored mounting international calls for a cease-fire Monday and said it won't stop its crippling 10-day assault until "peace and tranquility" are achieved in southern Israeli towns in the line of Palestinian rocket fire.

Israeli forces seized control of high-rise buildings and attacked smuggling tunnels and several mosques in a campaign against Hamas militants that took an increasing toll on civilians. Three young brothers were reported killed during shelling. Palestinian wounded filled hospital corridors.

Arab delegates met with the U.N. Security Council in New York Monday, urging members to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate end to the Israeli attacks and a permanent cease-fire. At the same time, diplomats and European leaders traveled the region in an effort to stop Israel's expanding ground and air offensive.

In the first serious clash in an urban area, Israeli troops and Hamas militants fought a gunbattle on the outskirts of the crowded Gaza City neighborhood of Shajaiyeh, Israeli defense officials said. Details also emerged of an unsuccessful attempt by Hamas fighters to capture Israeli soldiers hours after the ground operation began Saturday with a withering round of artillery fire.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu told Israeli TV the assault was going according to plan with forces sweeping through Palestinian rocket launching locations near the border and the militants suffering many casualties.

But no militant casualties were seen Monday by an Associated Press reporter at Shifa Hospital, the Gaza Strip's largest. Instead, the hospital was overwhelmed with civilians. Bodies were two to a morgue drawer, and the wounded were being treated in hallways because beds were full.

Gaza health officials reported that since the campaign began on Dec. 27 more than 550 Palestinians have been killed and 2,500 wounded, including 200 civilians. U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters in New York on Monday that U.N. officials believe at least 500 people have been killed in the fighting and that as many as 25 percent are civilians.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 05, 2009, 07:14:30 pm








At least 20 Palestinian children were killed during the day, said Dr. Moaiya Hassanain, a health official. Most confirmed deaths have been civilians.

Five Israelis have been killed during the offensive, including a soldier in the ground operation. Heavy Israeli casualties could undermine what has so far been overwhelming public support for the operation.

The three brothers died in an attack on a town outside Gaza City, a Gaza health official said. They were carried to a cemetery in an emotional funeral. One of them, Issa Samouni, 3, was wrapped in a white cloth, showing only his pale, yellow face. A man delicately placed him in a dark grave cut into the earth.

In Shajaiyeh, troops seized control of three six-story buildings on the outskirts, climbing to rooftop gun and observation positions, Israeli defense officials said. Residents were locked in their rooms and soldiers took away their cell phones, a neighbor said, quoting a relative who called before his phone was seized.

"The army is there, firing in all directions," said Mohammed Salmai, a 29-year-old truck driver. "All we can do is take clothes to each other to keep ourselves warm and pray to God that if we die, someone will find our bodies under the rubble."

Fighter jets attacked houses, weapons storage sites, a pair of mosques and smuggling tunnels, as they have since the start of the offensive. Israel has attacked several mosques during the campaign, saying they were used to store weapons.

In another strategic move, Israeli forces seized a main highway in Gaza, slicing the territory in two.

Israeli defense officials said one soldier was killed when soldiers fought off an attempt by Hamas fighters to capture Israeli soldiers hours after the ground operation began. They said the infantrymen were advancing up a strategic hill before dawn Sunday when militants emerged from a tunnel and tried to drag two Israeli infantrymen inside.

Hamas already holds one Israeli soldier, captured in June 2006, and another would be an important bargaining chip.

Israeli forces detained 80 Palestinians — some of them suspected Hamas members — and transferred several to Israel for questioning, said military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release the information.

The Gaza City area was rocked by shelling from both sides as gunboats in the sea and artillery and tanks closing in from the east unloaded thunderous fire.

After dark, the shelling reached deeper into residential areas. Fireballs lit up the horizon to the east, setting off blazes on the ground and silhouetting Gaza's tall buildings. Tracer fire ripped across the skyline.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 05, 2009, 07:17:23 pm









President George W. Bush emphasized "Israel's desire to protect itself."

"The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas," he said.

The deputy head of Hamas' politburo in Syria, Moussa Abu Marzouk, rejected the U.S. proposal, telling the AP the U.S. plan seeks to impose "a de facto situation" and encourages Israel to continue its attacks on Gaza.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who unsuccessfully proposed a two-day truce last week, met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who lost control of Gaza to Hamas in June 2007.

Europe "wants a cease-fire as quickly as possible," Sarkozy said after meeting Abbas, urging Israel to halt the offensive, while blaming Hamas for acting "irresponsibly and unpardonably."

A European Union delegation met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

"The EU insists on a cease-fire at the earliest possible moment," said Karel Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, which took over the EU's presidency last week from France. Rocket attacks on Israel also must stop, Schwarzenberg told a news conference with Livni.

The EU brought no truce proposals of its own because the cease-fire "must be concluded by the involved parties," he added.

As the bruising campaign entered its 10th day Monday, Hamas pummeled southern Israel with more than 30 rockets and promised to wait for Israeli soldiers "in every street and every alleyway."

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the offensive would go on until Israel achieved "peace and tranquility" for residents of southern Israel.

One of the rockets struck a large outdoor market that was closed at the time in the town of Sderot, just across Gaza's northeastern border. Another hit a kindergarten in the coastal city of Ashdod, north of the strip. The kindergarten, like schools across southern Israel, was closed and empty because of the rocket threat.

Israel has three main demands: an end to Palestinian attacks, international supervision of any truce, and a halt to Hamas rearming. Hamas demands an end to Israeli attacks and the opening of border crossings to vital cargo.

Livni said the operation was designed to change the rules of Israel's struggle against Hamas after years of firing rockets at Israel. From now on, she said, "when Israel is targeted, Israel is going to retaliate."

Israeli military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said Hamas was to blame for civilian casualties because it operates in densely populated areas.

"If Hamas chose cynically to use those civilians as human shields, then Hamas should be accountable," she said.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar exhorted Palestinians to fight the Israeli forces and target Israeli civilians and Jews abroad.

"The Zionists have legitimized the killing of their children by killing our children. They have legitimized the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people," Zahar said in a grainy video broadcast on Hamas TV.

Israel's operation has sparked anger across the Arab world and has drawn criticism from countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, which have ties with Israel and have been intimately involved in Mideast peacemaking.

In Beirut, Lebanon, protesters tried to pull away barbed wire blocking their path to the U.S. Embassy. They were driven back with heavy blasts of water.

___


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 05, 2009, 08:29:16 pm








                                      Gaza hospital overwhelmed by dead, wounded
     





GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip
AP
Jan 5, 2008

– Wailing in grief, Salah Samouni banged his head against a wall inside the hospital morgue where the bodies of his three young nephews lay on the floor Monday.

After 10 days of a relentless Israeli assault, Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest, is overwhelmed. Bodies were crowded two to a morgue drawer, and some — like 3-year-old Issa, 4-year-old Mohammed and 5-year-old Ahmad — were on the floor.

Shifa's shabby halls echoed Monday with the sounds of people screaming and the wail of ambulance sirens. Many of the wounded were being treated in hallways by harried doctors and nurses running on little sleep. The hospital was powered by emergency generators after shelling damaged power lines.

Since Israel began a ground offensive Saturday, most of the dead and wounded arriving at Shifa are civilians, as Israel's offensive shifts from airstrikes to artillery shelling and fighting close to densely populated areas.

Israel says it is targeting only the Hamas militants who control Gaza in an attempt to halt seven years of rocket fire at Israeli communities. But the 550 Palestinians who have been killed include at least 200 civilians, according to Dr. Moaiya Hassanein of the Gaza Health Ministry.

On Monday, 20 children between the ages of 2 and 15 were killed, he said. Since the military offensive began Dec. 27, three Israeli civilians and two soldiers have been killed.

Nurse Ahmad Abdul Salam, 34, red-eyed and smelling of sweat, his clothes stained with blood, said he couldn't sleep. "When my shift ends, I help my colleagues. These are our brothers and friends who are being harmed," he said.

The hospital's most gruesome scene was in its morgue, where blood pooled on the floor and refrigerators meant to hold 35 bodies were crammed with 70, laid side-by-side in drawers.

Lying on a gray mat on the floor, the three Samouni brothers appeared baby-faced and almost as though they were asleep, except for a large bandage wrapped around Issa's head.

The children's father was also killed in what relatives said was an Israeli strike on a house in eastern Gaza City where the family had fled to escape fighting nearby.

Relatives wept Monday and one man screamed for help for other family members he said were buried under the rubble of the house. "For God's sake, rescue them!" he pleaded.

No militants were seen at Shifa. Israel says its forces have killed dozens of Palestinian gunmen, but Hamas has not listed its casualties and it is unclear where militants are being treated or where their bodies were taken.

Shifa has been powered by generators since power completely cut out in Gaza City three days ago. Israel has not replenished Gaza's power station with industrial fuel since fighting began, and airstrikes have badly damaged power lines.

U.N. health official Mahmoud Daher said the generators were meant only as an emergency backup and he feared they would break down with the constant use, imperiling some 70 people hooked up to lifesaving equipment.

Throughout the day, exhausted medics rushed in with the wounded and the bodies of the dead.

Mohammed Salman, 26, a volunteer medic washing blood from the inside of an ambulance, said he had treated people with horrific injuries, including headless children and a woman whose stomach had been torn open.

The woman screamed, "Leave me and save my children," he said, and burst into tears.

Israeli aircraft have hit three ambulances in Gaza since the campaign began, killing seven medics, according to Gaza health officials.

A medical building owned by a relief organization not connected to Hamas was also bombed, said Daher. He said the building was destroyed, along with an ambulance, three mobile clinics and donated medicines.

The Israeli army says it has no records of any of those strikes.

Raed Arini, a Shifa hospital official, said he has stopped filling out the space on death certificates that says "reason for death."

"The reason for death is the Israeli army," he said, as medics rushed in with more wounded people.

____

Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid reported from Jerusalem.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 06, 2009, 07:22:59 am








                                                    Italy urges Gaza truce


                                  President and foreign minister blame Hamas for crisis






 (ANSA)
- Naples,
January 5, 2009

- Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Monday expressed his hope that peace missions by the European Union and French President Nicolas Sarkozy would lead to an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

''The situation is a very difficult one. Despite all the appeals being made nothing appears to be efficient from a political and diplomatic point of view,'' the head of state observed.

''Europe is trying to do something but it is not easy. It is my hope that that the EU missions coordinated by (the EU's High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier) Solana and Sarkozy will be successful in achieving a truce and that a suspension of hostilities will open the way for peace,'' Napolitano said.

Looking at the overall picture, the Italian president observed that ''the situation in Gaza is marked by the presence of a force like Hamas which has divided the Palestinian people''.

''This was apparent to me when I visited there a few months ago. Hamas has aggravated an already complicated crisis,'' he added.

In regards to Italy's position, the president said he did not see ''any great difference of opinion between the leading political parties on the crisis in Gaza''.

''There is common ground between all political parties on Israel's right to defend itself and for the Palestinians to have their own sovereign state,'' Napolitano said.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has also called for a ceasefire in Gaza but put the blame for the current crisis on Hamas.

Hamas, he explained ''not only violated a truce, it also violated the principle of land for peace''.

The minister added that while Israel ''has the right to defend itself'' from missile attacks on its border towns, ''it also has the duty to avoid civilian casualties''.

According to Frattini, ''the Palestinian people are the real victims of Hamas, which holds them hostage in Gaza''.

Frattini was critical of the EU sending two missions to the Mideast - one headed by the Czech Republic which holds the EU rotating presidency and the other by Sarkozy - on the grounds that Europe's credibility and political clout was undermined by not speaking in a single voice.

However, he recognised that France, which held the EU presidency in the second half of 2008, ''worked hard on this problem and is interested in finding a solution''.

Frattini ruled out making any visit to the Mideast himself because ''missions like these need to take place when they are useful. I will go there when the time is right''.

Italy this year holds the presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) most industrialised countries and has made the Mideast one of the priorities of its term.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 06, 2009, 07:24:24 am









                                Italy Says EU, Not Sarkozy, Should Seek Gaza Peace (Update1)







By Steve Scherer

Jan. 5, 2009
(Bloomberg)

-- Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini urged French President Nicolas Sarkozy to let the European Union lead negotiations to stop the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Sarkozy, who was EU president until Dec. 31, meets today Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to push for a cease-fire. Also today, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is leading an EU mission to the region. The Czech Republic took over the rotating EU presidency from France on Jan. 1.

“When everyone conducts his own mission, it weakens the strategic position,” Frattini said in an interview broadcast by SkyTG24 television. “Now there’s a new president” of the EU, he said, adding: “We must coordinate our action.”

Sarkozy is the first Western leader to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories since the conflict started Dec. 27. Israel two nights ago broadened what started as an aerial campaign aimed at stopping rocket attacks on its southern towns and cities into a ground operation involving thousands of troops.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said he “welcomes” Sarkozy’s mission, in a news conference broadcast live on CT24 public television. Czech President Vaclav Klaus, speaking at the same news conference in Lany, Czech Republic, said “let’s not look for a big conflict in this.” Klaus said it was “logical” that Sarkozy was representing France, which has good contacts in the region.

Jan Techau, an EU expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said he would “assume that the Sarkozy mission has been closely coordinated with the Czech EU presidency.”

“If it’s not, it’s a scandal,” said Techau.

The Czech Republic “doesn’t have much clout” in the Middle East and “if the Czechs accept Sarkozy’s role,” then it’s positive, said Techau.





To contact the reporters on this story:

Steve Scherer in Rome at scherer@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: January 5, 2009 10:32 EST


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 06, 2009, 07:27:37 am








                                      Israel hits UN school, nears major Gaza towns
     





Ibrahim Barzak And
Steve Weizman,
Associated Press Writers
Jan. 6, 2009
GAZA CITY,
Gaza

– Israeli forces edged closer to Gaza's major population centers on Tuesday and attacked new sites, including a U.N. school, taking more civilian lives after ignoring mounting international calls for an immediate cease-fire. A Palestinian rocket attack wounded an Israeli infant.

The United Nations said three civilians were killed in the airstrike on its school, where hundreds of people from a Gaza City refugee camp had gone to seek shelter from Israel's blistering 11-day offensive against the Hamas militant group.

The missile landed in a courtyard late Monday, causing minor damage to the building.

"There's nowhere safe in Gaza. Everyone here is terrorized and traumatized," said John Ging, the top U.N. official in Gaza.

"I am appealing to political leaders here and in the region and the world to get their act together and stop this," he said, speaking at Gaza's largest hospital. "They are responsible for these deaths."

U.N. officials say they provided their location coordinates to Israel's army to ensure that their buildings in Gaza are not targeted. The Israeli army had no comment on the latest strikes, but in the past has accused militants of using schools, mosques and residential neighborhoods to store weapons or launch attacks.

Israel launched its offensive on Dec. 27 to halt repeated Palestinian rocket attacks on its southern towns. After a weeklong air campaign, Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza over the weekend. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 100 civilians, according to United Nations figures. Nine Israelis have died since the operation began.

In other fighting early Tuesday, at least 18 Palestinians were killed in shelling from tanks and naval craft, local hospital officials said. Only two of the dead were confirmed as militants.

Tanks rumbled closer to the towns of Khan Younis and Dir el Balah in south and central Gaza but were still several kilometers (miles) outside, witnesses said, adding that the sounds of fighting could be heard from around the new Israeli positions. Israel already has encircled Gaza City, the area's biggest city.

The rising civilian death toll has drawn international condemnations and raised concerns of a looming humanitarian disaster. Many Gazans are without electricity or running water, thousands have been displaced from their homes and residents say that without distribution disrupted, food supplies are running thin.

"This is not a crisis, it's a disaster," said water utility official Munzir Shiblak. "We are not even able to respond to the cry of the people." He said about 800,000 residents in Gaza City and northern parts of the territory had no access to running water from Tuesday.

Israel says it won't stop the assault until its southern towns are freed of the threat of Palestinian rocket fire and it receives international guarantees that Hamas, a militant group backed by Iran and Syria, will not restock its weapons stockpile. It blames Hamas for the civilian casualties, saying the group intentionally seeks cover in crowded residential areas.

"The battle is bitter but unavoidable. We set out on this operation in order to deal Hamas a heavy blow and to alter living conditions in the south of the country and to block smuggling into the Gaza Strip," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The army says it has dealt a harsh blow to Hamas, killing 130 militants in the past two days and greatly reducing the rocket fire. At least 15 rockets were fired Tuesday and one landed in the town of Gadera, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Gaza border, lightly wounding a 3-month-old infant, police said. At the outset of the fighting, militants launched dozens of rockets each day.

Hamas is believed to have 20,000 fighters.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 06, 2009, 07:29:31 am








Israeli forces have cut the main Gaza highway in several places, cutting the strip into northern, southern and central sectors and preventing movement between them. Israel also has taken over high-rise buildings in Gaza City and destroyed dozens of smuggling tunnels — Hamas' main lifeline — along the Egyptian border.

Late Monday, a paratroop officer and three Israeli infantrymen were killed in two separate friendly fire incidents, the military said. Heavy Israeli casualties could threaten to undermine what so far has been wide public support for the operation.

A high-level European Union delegation met with President Shimon Peres on Tuesday in a futile bid to put an end to the violence. Commissioner Benita Ferraro-Waldner acknowledged Israel's right to self-defense, but said its response was disproportionate.

"We have come to Israel in order to advance the initiative for a humanitarian cease-fire and I will tell you, Mr. President, that you have a serious problem with international advocacy, and that Israel's image is being destroyed," she said, according to a statement from Peres' office.

In Geneva, the international Red Cross said Gaza was in a "full-blown" humanitarian crisis. Its head of operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, said the few remaining power supplies could collapse at any moment.

Israeli leaders say there is no humanitarian crisis and that they have allowed the delivery of vital supplies.

The EU delegation was one of a flurry of diplomatic efforts to forge a cease-fire. French President Nicolas Sarkozy left Israel after a day of meetings with leaders.

Europe "wants a cease-fire as quickly as possible," Sarkozy said Monday, urging Israel to halt the offensive, while blaming Hamas for acting "irresponsibly and unpardonably."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stressed to Sarkozy that any agreement "must contain at its foundation the total cessation of all arms transfers to Hamas," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

Regev noted that Hamas used a previous six-month truce to double the range of its rockets. About one-eighth of Israel's 7 million citizens now live in rocket range.

In New York, Arab delegates met with the U.N. Security Council, urging members to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate end to the attacks and a permanent cease-fire.

In Washington, the State Department said the U.S. was pressing for a cease-fire that would include a halt to rocket attacks and an arrangement for reopening crossings on the border with Israel, said spokesman Sean McCormack.

The crossings, used to deliver vital food shipments into Gaza, have been largely closed since Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007. A third element of a U.S.-backed cease-fire would address the smuggling tunnels used by Hamas.

President George W. Bush emphasized "Israel's desire to protect itself."

"The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas," he said.

A top exiled Hamas official in Syria, Moussa Abu Marzouk, rejected the U.S. proposal, telling the AP the U.S. plan seeks to impose "a de facto situation" and encourages Israel to continue its attacks on Gaza.

In Tuesday's fighting, six civilians were killed when an Israeli ship fired a shell at their house on the Gaza shore, hospital officials said. Residents said the gunboat apparently fired at a group of militants next to the house who were preparing to ambush advancing Israeli troops. Two militants died.

Palestinians said Israeli attacks intensified before dawn and at least 10 more civilians were killed when shells hit houses on the edge of Gaza City and in the Jebaliya refugee camp, to the north.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said the overall Palestinian toll since the opening of the Gaza campaign on Dec. 27 stood at about 500, with about 125 of them civilians.

Israeli forces detained 80 Palestinians — some of them suspected Hamas members — and transferred several to Israel for interrogation, said military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release the information.

Israel's operation has angered many across the Arab world and has drawn criticism from countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, which have ties with Israel and have been intimately involved in Mideast peacemaking.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 06, 2009, 07:37:59 am








                                    Crisis takes toll on Gaza's seasoned doctors, medics


     




Ahmed Abu Hamda And
Dion Nissenbaum,
Mcclatchy Newspapers –
Mon Jan 5, 2009
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip

— They come in waves, usually not long after a blast rattles the building or a black cloud of smoke rises up over the apartment buildings.

First come the ambulances, careening through Shifa Hospital's crowded courtyard as frenzied medics rush bloody patients through mobs of Palestinians who've come in previous waves to find out if their relatives are alive or dead.

Then come beat-up cars packed with Palestinians injured by Israeli shrapnel: brothers carrying bloodied younger sisters, fathers carrying lifeless sons, uncles carrying wailing nephews.

Shifa Hospital has long been crisis central for the Gaza Strip . In a seemingly endless series of conflicts, the wounded always come here.

Even doctors seasoned in Gaza's many emergencies, however, are reeling from the scale and intensity of the latest Israeli assault, which has killed more than 550 Palestinians and injured 2,500 others in 10 days of fighting.

As Israel's campaign against the militant Islamist group Hamas shifts from targeted air strikes to intense artillery barrages and street battles, the number of civilians caught in the crossfire is growing. Now the military strikes are also taking a toll on the harried medical crews sent into the urban battlefields to rescue wounded survivors.

At least six medics have been killed by Israeli strikes and three ambulances have been destroyed by Israeli fire, according to United Nations officials.

"There are no safe areas, and Gazans who want to flee the fighting have been prevented from leaving the Strip," said John Prideaux-Brune , the head of Oxfam-Great Britain's Palestinian office.

Prideaux-Brune lost one Palestinian colleague on Sunday when an Israeli shell hit the ambulance he was in as it tried to spirit a wounded patient away from advancing Israeli forces in the northern Gaza City town of Beit Lahiya.

The increasing risk to medics means that some emergency calls are going unanswered because ambulances can't safely navigate the battlefield.

"Some wounded people simply die while waiting for an ambulance," said Antoine Grand , the head of the Red Cross office in the Gaza Strip . "This is of course absolutely appalling."

The Israeli military says that it's doing all it can to avoid civilian casualties and blames Gaza militants for putting innocent Palestinians in the line of fire by using homes, apartments and mosques as hideouts and launching pads for counterattacks.

With artillery fire raining down and firefights breaking out in densely populated neighborhoods, civilian deaths are rising. Of the 550 Palestinians killed during the past 10 days, at least 111 of them have been children, according to Moaiya Hassanain, an official with the Health Ministry in the Hamas -controlled Gaza Strip .

Among those killed on Monday, medical officials said, were four young siblings who died when an Israeli missile struck a house in Gaza City and three children who were killed when the Israeli navy shelled the refugee camp that's home to Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Israel has barred foreign reporters from entering Gaza , and there was no way to confirm the Health Ministry figures; Israel said it had no information on civilian casualties.

However, the chaotic scene at Shifa Hospital , which is running on generators because it's been without normal power for three days, lends credibility to the numbers.

Doctors treat the crush of patients on the dirty reception room floor. Throngs of family members push past Hamas security to reach fallen relatives inside, and at the hospital's small morgue, families quietly console one another.

In one corner of the reception area, medics worked to stabilize Asmaa Bahtatete, a 10-year-old in furry pink pajama bottoms who'd been hit by shrapnel from an Israeli strike.

Nearby, Mohammed Sahwail and Ali Abu Jazar waited for news about Ali's brother, who they said was among a group of Palestinians hit by an Israeli strike while the men were gathering in a mourning tent to honor another Gaza resident who died during the ongoing fighting.

Jabel Abdel Dayam stood watch over his 21-year-old son, Slem, and angrily cursed everyone from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak .

" Hosni Mubarak opened the Suez Canal for American warships to liberate Kuwait from Iraq ," he said of the Egyptian president. "Let's then imagine that Kuwait is Palestine and Iraq is Israel . Why can't they liberate us the way they did with Kuwait ?"

Dayam said he'd lost three nephews, one of whom was a medic who was killed while he was trying to rescue people trapped by the Israeli campaign.

"Barak is a dog," the anguished father said later while standing over his son's bed.

On Monday, Israel gave the International Committee of the Red Cross permission to send in new international medical teams to help treat the wounded.

"The system is completely exhausted and overstretched," said Red Cross official Anne-Sophie Bonefeld .




(Hamda, a McClatchy special correspondent, reported from Gaza City . Nissenbaum reported from Jerusalem .)


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 06, 2009, 09:22:18 am








                                                Strike on 2nd UN school kills 30
     





GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip
JAN. 6, 2009

– Palestinian medical officials say the death toll from an Israeli airstrike outside a United Nations school in the Gaza Strip has risen to 30.

The attack occurred about 10 yards (meters) outside the school in northern Gaza. It was the second deadly Israeli attack to strike a UN school in the past few hours.

Hospital director Bassam Abu Warda confirmed the 30 deaths from the second airstrike.

In both cases, the schools had been used as shelters for people displaced by Israel's offensive against Hamas militants. More than 500 people have been killed in the 11-day operation, including many civilians.

A top U.N. humanitarian official has condemned the violence and demanded an investigation.

Israel isn't commenting. But it accuses Hamas of using schools, mosques and residential areas for cover.




THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.





GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip
(AP)
Jan. 6, 2009

— Palestinian medical officials say at least 12 people are dead in an Israeli airstrike outside a U.N. school in the northern Gaza Strip.

It is the second deadly Israeli airstrike to hit a U.N. school in the past few hours.

Palestinian health official Said Joudeh confirmed the death toll from the airstrike in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya. He says the school was turned into a shelter for people displaced by Israel's offensive against Hamas militants.

More than 500 people have been killed in the 11-day operation, including dozens of civilians.

Israel isn't commenting on Tuesday's airstrikes.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 06, 2009, 11:56:38 am










                                                  WHAT THE ISRAELIS THINK:






B'Tselem to army: Evacuate wounded Gazans trapped in shelled buildings
B'Tselem has received a report that several wounded Palestinians are currently trapped in buildings shelled on Saturday night by the army, together with the bodies of their relatives.


Human rights groups report from the field
Israeli human rights groups have launched a blog supplying ongoing updates about the caused to civilians as part of the fighting in the Gaza Strip and Southern Israel.


Killing of Nizar Rayan with his wives and children breaches laws of war
On 1 Jan. '09, the Israeli army killed four women and eleven children when it bombed the house of Nizar Rayan, a senior Hamas official, in the Jabalya refugee camp. Such extensive loss of civilian life constitutes a grave breach of international humanitarian law and cannot be justified on military grounds.


Ambulance and team fired at while evacuating wounded people
On 4 January, a medical team was fired at while evacuating wounded people in Beit Lahiya. A paramedic and one of the wounded people were killed.


Testimony: children witness two women shot in taxi
On 4 January, soldiers opened fire from a tank toward a passenger taxi outside Gaza City. The four children in the taxi witnessed their mother and another woman killed.


Testimony: Toddler and girl killed in their home by bombing
A-Nasalah family was in their home when near-by structure was bombed a number of times. A-Moaz, 2.5 years old and Eyon, 16, were killed.


Testimony: three-year-old killed in Gaza bombing
On 27 Dec., Ahmad and Maryam Sinwar, aged three and six, stepped out of their home to feed chickens in the yard. Before they reached the coop, the house was hit by the bombing of a nearby building. Ahmad was killed.


Testimony: Life in Gaza under siege and bombardment
The al-Masri family hardly dare leave the house and live on bread and tea.


Testimony: Five girls killed when IDF bombs near-by mosque
Samirah Bau'lusha, 36, lost 5 of her daughters when her house was destroyed after the Israeli Air Force bombed a mosque next door. Four of her other children were also hurt during the attack. According to Ba'aloosha, many houses near by were damaged as a result of the mosque bombing.


Testimony: Man loses father and brothers in Gaza bombing
On 27 Dec., Jaber …was urgently called home from work by a neighbor. He arrived to find his house destroyed and family members wounded or killed.


Testimony: 8-year-old girl and aunt are killed in their home by bombing
The Kashku family was warming themselves around a bon-fire in their yard due to the power failure. Ibtehal, the 8-year-old girl, went up to her aunt's apartment to get tea, when the house was bombed. Ibtehal and her aunt were killed and the house was destroyed.


Testimonies: Vegetable merchants killed in bombing of Gaza police building
On 27 Dec. '08, the Israeli army bombed a police building next to the central market of Deir al-Balah. Merchants and vendors were killed, as well as a seven-year-old child.



Additional items...



http://www.btselem.org/English/


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 06, 2009, 07:26:14 pm









                                   Egypt floats truce plan after 42 killed in Gaza school
     






January 6, 2009
GAZA
(Reuters)

– Israel and Hamas studied a proposal by Egypt for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday that won immediate backing from the United States and Europe, hours after Israeli shells killed 42 Palestinians at a U.N. school.

However, Israeli officials also said ministers would discuss a major escalation of their 12-day-old offensive that would push troops deep inside Gaza's cities and refugee camps in their bid to end rocket fire into Israel by Islamist militant groups.

A Palestinian official said Hamas leaders, who want an end to Israel's blockade of the coastal enclave, had been briefed in Egypt on the proposals by President Hosni Mubarak and were debating them internally.

Israeli officials have said they too are willing to look seriously at plans that would satisfy their demand that Egypt cut off Hamas's supplies of smuggled weapons.

Mubarak made his ceasefire call at a joint news conference in Egypt with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He gave little detail, but diplomats have described a process that would focus on bringing in foreign forces to seal the Egypt-Gaza border to Hamas arms smugglers while easing other trade routes.

Sarkozy, winding up a two-day tour of the Middle East, said: "I am confident the Israeli authorities' reaction will make it possible to consider putting an end to the operation in Gaza."

With Washington hamstrung by the transition period ahead of the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, France and its European partners, with backing from U.S. allies in the Arab world, have been pushing hard for Israel to cease fire.

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking at the United Nations, quickly endorsed the Mubarak proposal and said a "sustainable" ceasefire should involve both closing off Hamas's ability to rearm through tunnels from Egypt and easing the lives of the 1.5 million people of Gaza by reopening its trade routes.

"We need urgently to conclude a ceasefire that can endure and that can bring real security," Rice told the Security Council.

She also welcomed an offer by Israel to open what it called a "humanitarian corridor" that would let aid agencies more easily distribute food and medicine around Gaza while it continues its military operation, which has killed over 600 people and carved the 40-km (25-mile) strip into several zones.







ISRAEL'S "THIRD PHASE?"




For all the talk of ceasefire, however, Israel continues to insist that it wants all rocket fire to stop -- over 30 missiles hit Israel on Tuesday -- and guarantees that Hamas cannot rearm.

And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's security cabinet, convening on Wednesday morning, will discuss a third -- and final -- stage of the offensive, two senior political sources said, though the ministers may defer a vote on approving the plan.

"The plan is to enter the urban centers," a source said, noting the first phase was an air campaign launched on December 27 and the second a ground invasion that began on January 3.

Olmert spokesman Mark Regev declined comment, saying: "We do not generally discuss the agendas of the security cabinet."


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 06, 2009, 07:28:19 pm








CARNAGE AT SCHOOL



After nightfall, fighting eased to a sporadic rhythm of explosions and gunfire across the enclave. On Tuesday, 77 civilians were killed taking the total Palestinian death toll to 631, compared to 10 Israelis, seven of them soldiers.

Israel says it has killed dozens of militants this week in intensive close-quarter combat. Arab and widespread international anger mounted on Tuesday, however, when Israel admitted mortaring a United Nations school where hundreds of people were taking refuge. Medics said 42 people were killed.

The Israeli army accused Hamas militants of using civilians as "human shields" and said its troops had been returning mortar fire from the school.

An aide said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a bitter foe of Hamas, had ordered officials to look into taking Israel to international courts over the incident. A U.N. spokesman said it wanted an inquiry into both the incident and the Israeli allegations about militants firing from its schools.

The school killing could intensify pressure on Israel for a ceasefire. During Israel's 2006 war against Hezbollah, the deaths of 28 unarmed Lebanese in shelling at the village of Qana intensified international pressure on the Jewish state to negotiate a ceasefire.

The deaths in the school prompted Obama to break his silence on the Gaza offensive, to say the loss of life among civilians was "a source of deep concern" for him. Obama said he would not engage in policy until he was in office but vowed to work rapidly thereafter to secure peace in the Middle East.

Some commentators have said the U.S. presidential transition has exposed the United States to greater risks from Israel's action in Gaza. Al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri called on the Internet for Muslims to "hit the interests of the Zionists and Crusaders wherever and in whichever way you can."

Washington's allies in Arab governments have condemned the Israeli assault, which has contributed to rising oil prices, and the always vocally anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, another OPEC member, called it a "holocaust."

Venezuela also expelled the Israeli ambassador.

Hamas, which has rebuffed Western demands to recognize Israel, end violence and accept existing interim peace deals, has demanded a lifting of the blockade of the Gaza Strip in any future ceasefire. It seized the territory in 2007, 18 months after it won a Palestinian parliamentary election.

That created a schism with Abbas's Fatah faction that helped kill off the outgoing U.S. administration's efforts to broker a peace with Israel that would have created a Palestinian state. The violence in Gaza this month has raised questions over Obama's ability to do better.



(Additional reporting by
Dan Williams and
Adam Entous in Jerusalem,

Aziz el-Kaissouni in Sharm el-Sheikh and

Claudia Parsons at the United Nations;

Writing by Alastair Macdonald;

editing by Myra MacDonald)


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 07:35:16 am









                                 Deepening Israeli assault on Hamas divides Arab world
     





Yahoo News
Jan. 7, 2009

Israel pressed deeper into Gaza Tuesday in its assault on Hamas. As the battle grew deadlier, calls for a cease-fire mounted as did outrage at Israel after two strikes outside United Nations schools killed at least 34 Gaza civilians.

Across the Arab world the conflict continues to tear at the rift between factions that extol resistance to Israel and the Western-friendly autocracies and monarchies that rule in the region. As anger at Israel grows, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas backers in Iran and Syria gain more currency on the street at the expense of American allies: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. And this shifting tide of support could have an impact on US policy in the Middle East for decades.

"This conflict, like the July [2006 Hezbollah-Israel] war, is one in which the stakes are very high for both sides," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Lebanese expert on the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. "I would expect now an even-deeper polarization in the region."

As with the 2006 Lebanon war, the Gaza conflict suggests that the most dynamic forces at play in the modern Middle East are not states but the powerful militant organizations – Hezbollah and Hamas – that have emerged and evolved over the past two decades.

"These are very powerful, legitimate, and perplexing actors for the world to deal with. The really important actors are the militant nationalist, Islamist resistance groups," says Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Center of Lebanon at the American University of Beirut.

These divisions between anti-Israeli factions and US allies were first thrown into sharp relief in July 2006 when Hezbollah fought the Israeli army to a surprising standstill in south Lebanon. At the onset of that conflict, Saudi Arabia implicitly accused Hezbollah and its backer Iran of "uncalculated adventures," an unusually stinging rebuke.

But in this war between Israel and an Islamist militant group, the verbal barbs have been sharper. The Saudis, while providing humanitarian aid to Gazans, have implicitly blamed Hamas for the offensive, saying that the "massacre would not have happened if the Palestinian people were united behind one leadership."

On the other side, Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah charged the Sunni Egyptian regime of conspiring with Israel and urged Egyptians "to take the streets in their millions."

"Can the Egyptian police kill millions of Egyptians? No, they cannot," he said.

This was an unprecedented call from the politically astute leader who has always been wary of aggravating Sunni-Shiite tensions.

"The gloves have come off and Hezbollah is no longer afraid of antagonizing the Sunnis," says Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul-Gheit shot back at Sheikh Nasrallah, saying that Hezbollah had destroyed Lebanon in 2006 and accused him of having "insulted the Egyptian people."

"I found Nasrallah's comments to be objectionable, but I also found them to be ineffective because they had absolutely no effect on the ground," says Nabil Fahmy, an Egyptian diplomat and former ambassador to Washington. "What has had more of an effect in galvanizing the Egyptian people, understandably, is the bombing itself."

The Israeli offensive has triggered demonstrations in Europe and the Arab world. While Europeans have largely directed their protests at the Israeli government, Middle Easterners are pointing their ire at Egypt, with thousands marching on Egyptian embassies in Beirut and Amman, Jordan.

But as the war drags on, unease is growing among so-called Arab "moderates." Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan have become more vocal in their denunciations of Israel's excessive military force. King Abdullah of Jordan has sacked his intelligence chief in what may be a move related to the Gaza crisis. Last week he and his wife, Queen Rania, donated blood for Palestinians in Gaza.

The violence hastened steps Tuesday to reach a cease-fire arrangement and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to the UN to consult with Arab officials.

Syria, which hosts Hamas's leadership, also has been drawn into the diplomatic moves with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, holding talks Tuesday with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in Damascus as part of a tour with European officials.

Syria is in an unusual position. It is the sole Arab state member of the so-called "resistance front," it continues to maintain an alliance with non-Arab Iran, backs Hezbollah and Hamas, and has acted to scuttle US policy gains in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon.

Still, its relations with Europe have thawed lately and there are hints of a renewed dialogue with the US under President-elect Barack Obama's administration. On the other hand, Syria's ties with Saudi Arabia and Egypt have worsened.

"The Syrians have strong reason to believe that Hamas will not be defeated in this war, and on the contrary, will score a point for its allies, vis-ΰ-vis Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who are loudly critical of Hamas today," says Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst. "It's not on Syria's agenda to make up with either Egypt or Saudi Arabia, given their positions on the current war. Syria is sticking by its allies and continuing to build-bridges with Europe."

But it is the powerful nonstate actors of Hezbollah and Hamas that draw most attention. Nasrallah's televised addresses are watched avidly by friends and foes alike for clues on what his enigmatic organization might do next. Hezbollah and its allies are in a strong position to triumph at the polls in June to form a new parliamentary majority and government. Hamas, having won elections in 2006, is the ruling authority in Gaza.

But with power comes responsibility. Hezbollah has refrained so far from coming to the assistance of its ally Hamas by opening up a new front in northern Israel largely because of the domestic political backlash such a move would invoke. Hamas, too, even if it emerges from this war claiming victory, may find its military options curtailed.

"In the short term, there will be a perception that they [Hamas] are stronger and that countries that supported them are stronger," says Mr. Fahmy, the Egyptian diplomat. "But if whoever is controlling Gaza a few months down the line cannot give people a better lifestyle … then I don't think they will continue to be heroes."


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 07:39:10 am



              (http://l.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/us/news/editorial/d/4b/d4b66ce3edab2c83fed16c1e8b4fae80.jpeg?x=426&y=200&xc=1&yc=1&wc=426&hc=200&q=100&sig=NtXJcgcSqEFxdcWLPnXC3w--)









                                          Led by ideologues, Gazans feel abandoned by the world
     





Mcclatchy Newspapers –
Tue Jan 6, 2009
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip

— For 11 days, life has kept getting worse for Saladin Sultan and his family.

First came the surprise Israeli airstrikes on his northern Gaza Strip town. Then the power went out. Food became harder to find.

As Israeli ground troops advanced through the uneven dirt roads leading to his town Monday, Sultan gathered his wife and five children and fled.

On Tuesday, living in a cold, dark United Nations school, Sultan wanted to know why it had come to this.

Among the 1.5 million Palestinians in the increasingly isolated Gaza Strip , there's a growing sense of abandonment.

Gaza residents with no way to escape the expanding Israeli military campaign to destabilize Hamas are turning their anger on the outside world.

From hospital emergency rooms to rudimentary shelters, more and more Palestinians say that everyone from their Arab allies to Western diplomats has turned a blind eye to their deepening plight.

"Where are the Europeans?" asked Sultan, a 40-year-old shop owner. "Where are the human rights they are talking about? A dog there is better than a human (here).

"They are not human," he said bitterly. "They are insects."

Israeli aircraft and artillery have been pounding the Gaza Strip relentlessly for 11 days. The attacks have killed more than 600 Palestinians and wounded nearly 3,000. The Gaza Strip's government infrastructure, from police stations and universities to government offices and mosques, has been repeated targets of Israeli strikes. Most residents haven't had power for days. Food is becoming more scarce. Hospitals are straining to handle the rising number of women and children wounded by the Israeli attacks. Israeli ground troops are closing in on Gaza City .

And there's still no real indication that evolving diplomatic cease-fire talks will end the attacks anytime soon.

Predictably, plenty of anger is aimed at the Israelis who launched the attack.

However, there's also pointed hostility toward the Arab and Muslim world, which largely has been slow to act.

"God damn the Arabs," Jabel Abdel Dayam shouted as he stood over his wounded son in Gaza City's Shifa Hospital . "

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak draws special scorn in Gaza .

He's opened Egypt's border crossing with Gaza to allow a small number of Palestinians out and a small amount of humanitarian aid in. However, he's cracked down on pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Cairo .

It hasn't escaped people's notice that Mubarak, like Israel , relies on billons of dollars in American aid, and that he, like Israel , sees militant Islamists as a major threat.

Although demonstrators in Egypt have pounded on the border gates with Gaza to demand that Mubarak allow Palestinian to flee, the potential escape hatch remains shut.

Gazans also are experiencing a sense of alienation from their estranged Palestinian cousins in the West Bank .

Ever since Hamas seized control of Gaza in a pitiless, 2007 military showdown with fighters loyal to pragmatic Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas , the divide between the West Bank and Gaza has been growing.

Even so, many Palestinians in both places were surprised when Abbas appeared initially to back Israel's military strike on Gaza by blaming Hamas for instigating the crisis.

While truce talks have been slow to gain traction, Palestinians find themselves trapped between advancing Israeli forces intent on crippling Hamas and Hamas ideologues intent on humiliating Israel .

Eyaj Sarraj, the founder of the Gaza City Mental Health Program, said both sides were leading Gaza into ruin.

"This is a revenge mentality with no strategy for security and peace except by brutal force," Sarraj said of the Israeli policy. "The strategy on the Hamas side is a fatalistic belief in resistance. And here we are in the middle."



(Hamda is a McClatchy special correspondent.
Nissenbaum reported from Jerusalem .)


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 07:45:09 am








                                 UN Says No Hamas Fighters Were in Bombed Gaza School







Yahoo News
Tim Mcgirk –
Wed Jan 7, 2009

United Nations investigators say they have uncovered no evidence to support a claim by the Israeli military that Hamas fighters were holed up in a Gaza school, prompting a deadly attack by Israeli forces that killed 40 civilians, many of them children.


The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office asserted that militants fired mortars from inside the school at troops involved in Israel's controversial incursion into the Gaza Strip in pursuit of Hamas fighters - a military operation that is drawing fierce international condemnation as civilian casualties mount. "The IDF returned fire," according to the spokesman's office. (See pictures of Israeli soldiers sweeping into Gaza.)


But after a preliminary investigation of the Jan. 6 attack at the Fakhura girl's elementary school, "we're 99.9% sure that no militants were at the school," says Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The agency questioned survivors, including UNRWA staff that run the school under U.N. auspices.


Before the school was hit by Israeli bombs, some 400 Palestinians fleeing shelling of the Jabalya refugee camp had taken shelter inside Fakhura, hoping that the U.N. flag would shield them from harm, according to survivors. Earlier, the U.N., which oversees relief efforts for more than 800,000 Palestinians in Gaza, had passed along the coordinates of all its schools and buildings to the Israeli military so that its humanitarian missions would be spared attack.


Some reports say that Israel struck the school with artillery shells, while others say with mortars. Thirty Palestinians were killed outright from the incoming fire, and 10 others died last night in Gaza's overburdened and badly provisioned hospitals, according to the U.N. More than 55 were injured. Israeli bombs also hit a second school on Tuesday, say Gaza residents, killing three civilians.


Some Jabalya refugees at the school said they saw a small group of militants firing mortars near the school and running away, the Associated Press reported. A Gaza resident contacted by TIME said there is a citrus grove not far from the school. "Most likely, the militants fired from there," said the resident, who requested anonymity.


But Israeli military officials insist that the mortars were fired from within the crowded schoolyard and that Hamas is using civilians as human shields. The IDF gave the names of two Hamas combatants it says were killed inside the school - Imad and Hasasan Abu Askar - who allegedly fired the mortars. But the IDF did not explain how it was able to identify them among the many casualties. Troops did not visit the school after the attack, nor did the IDF have access to a casualty list from Gaza's hospitals. (See pictures of Israel's deadly assault on Gaza.)


The school deaths intensified urgent international calls for a cease-fire. Israeli diplomats said that Israel was taking 'very, very seriously" an Egyptian cease-fire proposal backed by the U.S. and Europe. Several senior Hamas officials in Cairo were briefed on the Egyptian proposal and said they are debating it.


The Egyptians are suggesting that both sides agree to an immediate truce, and work out long-term details on lifting the Israeli blockade of Gaza. However, one member of the Hamas poliburo in Damascus complained to TIME that the proposal does not call for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. "Without that, it's a joke," he said.


On Tuesday, as the Israeli military tightened its hold on Gaza's towns and refugee camps, civilian casualties mounted sharply, with 77 killed, taking the total death toll to 631 since the operation began 12 days ago. Israel says it will not halt its ground offensive until Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel. Hamas launched 30 rockets Tuesday, striking towns near Gaza but causing no casualties.


Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would allow the opening of a "humanitarian corridor" to bring supplies to the besieged 1.5 million Gazans trapped by the conflict, and called for all fighting to be suspended for three hours on a daily basis to allow residents to stock up on necessities. "While we welcome the humanitarian corridor," says Gunness, the UNRWA spokesman, "this cannot compromise the need for an immediate ceasefire."



- With reporting by Jamil Hamad/Bethlehem


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 11:30:01 am








                                        Muslims around the world protest Gaza assault







Fri Jan 2, 2009
ABC News
CAIRO,
Egypt

– Thousands protested Friday against Israel's air offensive targeting Hamas at demonstrations in the Middle East and several continents.

Similar protests have been held daily across the Middle East since Israel launched the bombing campaign last Saturday. But these gatherings held mostly after Friday prayers were larger — mainly because Friday prayers are a traditional gathering opportunity for Muslims — and seemed to be more far-reaching in the number of countries where protests occurred.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 400 Palestinians and sparked outrage among the Arab public. Israel says its offensive is aimed at silencing Hamas rockets.

In Tehran, a crowd of about 6,000 stretching for a half-mile (kilometer) marched from prayers at Tehran University to Palestine Square, chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" and burning Israeli flags.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned Israel that entering Gaza "by land will be the biggest mistake of the Zionist regime."

Iran is a major backer of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, giving it millions of dollars. The U.S. and Israel accuse Iran of giving weapons and rockets to Hamas, though Tehran denies arming Hamas.

In Egypt, authorities clamped down hard to prevent protests Friday. Hundreds of riot police surrounded Cairo's main Al-Azhar Mosque, where a rally had been called, and scuffled with would-be protesters, keeping most from approaching.

Police also arrested 40 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood that called for protests.

More than 3,000 people marched in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish.

Many governments in the Arab world such as Egypt have been wary about protests at home over Israel's Gaza assault lest the protests spiral out of control.

In Jordan, police fired volleys of tear gas and scuffled with protesters who tried to reach the Israeli Embassy in Amman. A few of the protesters threw stones at police, but the security forces dispersed the group, arresting several.

About 30,000 Jordanians gathered at a stadium in Amman shouting their support for Gaza and calling for the abolition of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty signed in 1994.

More than 10,000 Muslims marched through Indonesia's capital Jakarta to protest the ongoing bombing raids in Gaza, aiming fake missiles labeled "Target: Tel Aviv, Israel" at the U.S. Embassy.

Protests were also held after Friday prayers in other cities in the world's most populous Muslim country, in what was the largest turnout since Israel began the operation.

In the Afghan capital of Kabul, about 3,000 people gathered outside a prominent mosque, according to police estimates. Men in the crowd threw stones and shoes at an effigy of President George W. Bush.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in the Philippines capital Manila, carrying placards saying Israel is a "butcher of children."

In Turkey, Israel's closest ally in the region, some 5,000 people denounced the Israeli raids outside a mosque in Istanbul, burning Israeli and U.S. flags and reciting funeral prayers for the victims.

In Syria, some 2,000 marched in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, carrying Palestinian flags and chanting "jihad will unite us."

Syrian President Bashar Assad talked with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday and called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution forcing Israel to immediately halt its Gaza offensive, Syria's official news agency SANA reported.

In Sudan, thousands marched in downtown Khartoum, urging Muslims to jihad and denouncing Israel and America.

Protests erupted as well in the Palestinian territories.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, thousands demonstrated in solidarity with Gazans, calling for Palestinian unity and accusing Arab leaders of silence over Israel's bombardment.

There were also protests in the United States. Thousands gathered in Washington to express outrage over Israel's attacks, marching from the Israeli embassy Friday to the Egyptian embassy to criticize Egypt's handling of the attacks.

In Los Angeles, about 350 protesters and counterprotesters demonstrated. The pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside the Israeli Consulate, while supporters of Israel lined the opposite side of the street. No incidents were immediately reported.

Ex-Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox and other celebrities, including activist Bianca Jagger, comedian Alexei Sayle and former London mayor Ken Livingstone, held a news conference in London demanding Israel halt the onslaught.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil almost 200 people led by local Muslim leaders gathered outside the Sao Paulo Art Museum to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Several demonstrators carried Palestinian flags, and banners reading "End the Genocide in Gaza."

In Bern, Switzerland, hundreds of people marched, calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and demanding the international community impose sanctions against Israel.

Russian authorities detained about 37 people after a small protest outside the Israeli Embassy in Moscow demanding an end to attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Hundreds of Muslims held a rally at the main mosque in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, hoisting banners that said "Palestinian Blood Is Human Blood" and shouting for Kenya to sever ties with Israel.

Meanwhile, Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the leader of al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, has issued a message urging Muslims to attack Jews everywhere, according to the SITE Intelligence, a group which monitors extremist Web sites.

The message was issued on jihadist forums on Thursday, SITE said.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 11:32:23 am








                                      Israel, Hamas briefly hold fire to allow Gaza aid
     





January 7, 2009.
(Ismail Zaydah/Reuters)
GAZA
(Reuters)

– Hundreds of embattled Palestinians ventured outside to shop for food on Wednesday during a three-hour Gaza truce, a first step toward an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire under discussion by Israel and Hamas.

"Food and milk -- what else can we hope for in three hours," said Ahmed Abu Kamel, a father of six who lives near the city of Gaza. "We want it all to end."

Violence resumed in the area soon after the 1 p.m.-4 p.m. truce expired, and Palestinians returned to the precarious safety of their home after stocking up on food and visiting family and friends.

Israel said it would cease attacks in the Gaza Strip during those hours every day to ease the flow of aid to the Hamas-run territory's 1.5 million residents.

A day after Israeli shelling killed 42 Palestinians at a U.N.-run Gaza school, Israel said it viewed "positively" talks with Cairo over a wider ceasefire plan promoted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

"We welcome the French-Egyptian initiative. We want to see it succeed," said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose security cabinet decided to delay a decision on expanding a 12-day-old Gaza offensive.

Israel wants a ceasefire deal to include a specialized international force to search out and destroy tunnels along the border between Gaza and Egypt to prevent Hamas from rearming and firing more rockets at Israeli towns.

A Palestinian official said the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers, who want an end to Israel's blockade of the enclave, had been briefed in Egypt by Mubarak and were debating the proposal.

"Aggression must stop, the siege must be lifted and the Zionist forces must pull out, and then we can talk about others issues, including calm and rockets," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

In fresh fighting, at least 12 Palestinians were killed by Israeli attacks, medical workers said. At least 15 Hamas rockets hit southern Israel, causing no casualties.

The total Palestinian death toll reached 650, medical officials said. Israel says it killed dozens of militants this week in the offensive it launched on December 27 with the declared aim of silencing rocket salvoes.

According to U.N. figures, more than a quarter of the Palestinian dead are civilians. A Palestinian human rights group put the figure at 40 percent. Seven Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

The United Nations called for an inquiry into Israel's deadly shelling of the U.N. school in Jabalya refugee camp on Tuesday. Israel said Hamas militants at the school had fired rockets. The U.N. said there were no gunmen on the premises.

An aide said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a bitter foe of Hamas, ordered officials to look into taking Israel to international courts over the deaths at the school.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 11:34:39 am








BORDER SECURITY

Israeli government sources said Egypt was seeking an initial 48-hour ceasefire, during which it would put the finishing touches to its plan. Israel, the sources said, opposed a preliminary truce and wanted all the details of a ceasefire agreement completed first.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy speech, said by telephone from Tel Aviv that the EU was prepared to help Egypt prevent arms smuggling along its border with the Gaza Strip as part of a ceasefire with Israel.

"Today we have the will, today we have the technology, today we have the means ... to prevent that smuggling of weapons takes place," he said, but played down the need for foreign ground forces.

With Washington in a transition period ahead of the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, France and its European partners, with backing from U.S. allies in the Arab world, have been pushing hard for Israel to cease fire.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice endorsed the Mubarak proposal and said a "sustainable" ceasefire should involve both closing off Hamas's ability to rearm and easing the lives of the 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip by reopening trade routes.

While it ordered a three-hour-long lull in "offensive" military operations to let in aid, Israel also considered entering a third stage of its air and ground offensive -- a deep push into Gaza's cities and refugee camps.

But an Israeli official, citing the Egyptian and French ceasefire efforts, said Olmert's security cabinet deferred voting on the urban warfare plan to an undisclosed date.

Fierce combat in Gaza's narrow alleyways and streets, leading to heavy casualties on both sides, would hold political risks for Israel's leaders ahead of a February 10 national election.




(Additional reporting by
Dan Williams and
Adam Entous
in Jerusalem,

Aziz el-Kaissouni in
Sharm el-Sheikh and

Claudia Parsons and
Louis Charbonneau at
the United Nations;

Writing by
Alastair Macdonald and
Jeffrey Heller;

Editing
by Dominic Evans)


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 11:39:00 am








                                         AP Gaza reporter finds hometown in rubble
     





Ibrahim Barzak,
Associated Press Writer
Jan. 7, 2009
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip

– I live alone in my office. My wife and two young children moved in with her father after our apartment was shattered. The neighborhood mosque, where I have prayed since I was a child, had its roof blown off. All the government buildings on my beat have been obliterated.

After days of Israeli shelling, the city and life I have known no longer exist.

Gaza City, with some 400,000 people, stopped supplying water when the fuel ran out for the power station driving the pumps. We listen to battery-run radios for news, even though the outside world watches what's happening to us on television. Grocery stores are closed and food is scarce.

Hospital officials say more than 600 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's military operation to crush Hamas, the radical Islamic movement that rules Gaza. Many are civilians.

Three days after Israel began its airstrikes on Gaza on Dec. 27, my apartment building was shaken by bombs aimed at a nearby Hamas-run government compound.

My brother took a picture of the room where my boys, 2-year-old Hikmet and 6-month-old Ahmed, once slept. Their toys were broken, shrapnel had punched through the closet and the bedroom wall had collapsed. I don't know if we will ever go back.

The Israeli army issued a video of the bombing of the Hamas compound, which it posted on YouTube. I can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively.

On Tuesday, I stood outside my apartment building but didn't dare to enter. I was worried the remains of the nearby Hamas compound might again be shelled without warning.

Driving back to central Gaza City, I took the road where Gaza's two main universities are. It was covered with shards of glass, telephone cables, electricity wires and flattened cars. This road was once crowded with students, taxis and street vendors. It was always noisy and jammed.

The only shop I found open was a pharmacy run by my friend Eyad Sayegh. He's an Orthodox Christian, and I stopped to wish him a Merry Christmas — Eastern churches celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.

Eyad told me he forgot it was Christmas.

All the landmark buildings I covered as a reporter have vanished.

The colonial-era Seraya was the main security compound for the succession of Gaza's rulers — the British, Egyptians, Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and then the rival Palestinians of Hamas.

We used to fear the Seraya, where the central jail was. Now it's rubble.

Of the presidential office overlooking the sea only a few walls remain. For many Gazans it was a symbol of our statehood, even though President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the Fatah movement, hasn't been there since Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007.

Someone planted a Palestinian flag on the building's remains. The huge gate at the western entrance still stands, giving an illusion of something big behind it.

And across the city, the Parliament house is half destroyed.

On Jala Street, one of Gaza's main roads, I saw about 30 boys around a leaky irrigation tap on a traffic island. They were clutching empty soft drink bottles and jerry cans, trying to fill them with water.

Samir, who is 9, told me his family has no water at home and he wanted to bring enough for a bath because he and his brother smell.

So do most people in Gaza right now.

In my father-in-law's building, residents throw out bags of spoiled food. With no power, refrigerators don't run and fresh food quickly rots.

Shortages are getting worse, leading to unusual gender equality in the bread lines. I saw about 150 men and women gathered to buy bread — but standing in separate lines. The men complained the women, normally so deferential to men, kept pushing, so now they have two lines.

There are few cars on the roads, and most of those are media cars, ambulances and vehicles packed with civilians. Some look like they are fleeing, with mattresses tied to the roofs, but who knows where they can go.

Israeli helicopters fly overhead. I hear blasts in the distance. The roads have been ripped apart by explosives.

I drive into downtown Gaza, trying to prove to myself I can still do something I have done so often before — drive through my city.

I reach the Catholic school I attended, where my late father used to bring me every day. The building is undamaged. I stand in front of it, wondering if I will ever walk my children to this school.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 03:12:36 pm









                                             Israel approves tougher war on Hamas
 






JAN. 7, 2009
Reuters
GAZA CITY
(AFP) –

 Israel on Wednesday approved an even tougher war on Hamas, warning residents to flee southern Gaza ahead of planned bombardments of cross-border tunnels, as the Palestinian death toll passed 700.

After a brief lull to allow Gaza's beleaguered population to hunt for food and fuel, Defence Minister Ehud Barak was given the green light by the security cabinet to order a deeper offensive into Gaza towns as part of the campaign to halt Hamas cross-border rocket attacks.

But Barak has also decided to send an envoy to Cairo on Thursday to get details on an Egyptian ceasefire plan, which secured widespread international backing amid mounting concern about the scale of the civilian casualties.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he hoped the talks would "lead to conditions which will allow" the end of the Israeli offensive which began on December 27 and has so far killed 702 Palestinians and wounded 3,100, Gaza medics say.

Olmert chaired the security cabinet meeting in Jerusalem which "approved continuing the ground offensive, including a third stage that would broaden it by pushing deeper into populated areas," a senior defence official said.

The final decision will be left with Barak, the official added.

Israeli shelling and air attacks around Gaza City were halted for three hours as a humanitarian gesture. Hamas also halted rocket attacks.

People and cars quickly filled the streets of Gaza City and long queues formed outside bakeries which soon ran out of bread. Aid groups sent dozens of truckloads of food and fuel across the border during the truce.

But the fighting equally quickly resumed, inflicting new deaths. A man and his three sons and a nephew were killed in one attack at the Jabaliya refugee camp, according to Gaza medics.

Israel also warned thousands of people in the Rafah zone on the Egyptian border to leave their houses or face air strikes.

"You have until 8:00am (0600 GMT)" on Thursday, said leaflets which were dropped by the Israeli military.

The area around Rafah is criss-crossed by what the Israeli army estimates to be some 300 tunnels and what local residents have told AFP is 500 subterranean passages from Gaza into Egypt.

The tunnels are used to smuggle supplies and arms into Gaza, an impoverished enclave that Israel has virtually locked down since Hamas seized power in June 2007.

Putting a halt to the smuggling is a key element of the ceasefire plan proposed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The proposal calls for an "immediate ceasefire," Israeli-Palestinian talks in Egypt on securing Gaza's borders, reopening border crossings and possible Palestinian reconciliation talks under Egyptian mediation.

Egypt has asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to open a humanitarian corridor from its border with Gaza for aid and evacuating the wounded, the foreign ministry in Cairo said.

The Hamas leadership announced it was studying the plan and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was set to go to Cairo for talks.

The United States signalled it was open to the idea of a ceasefire but the White House said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was clarifying details of the Egyptian plan.

Russia's top Middle East envoy met exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus on Wednesday. A Russian foreign ministry statement said Meshaal declared himself ready to take part in a "political-diplomatic solution" but that "the imposition of capitulatory conditions by Israel was unacceptable."

The Israeli government has faced mounting international criticism over its offensive, its deadliest ever in Gaza.

Cardinal Renato Martino, the Vatican's justice and peace minister, was quoted by the online Italian daily Il Sussidiario as saying Gaza had been turned into a "big concentration camp" by two weeks of Israeli bombardments.

Israel responded by saying the comments were "based on Hamas propaganda."

Hundreds of Hamas rockets fired into Israel over the past 12 days have killed four people and wounded dozens. Six Israeli soldiers have also been killed in combat.

Israel was also slammed by the United Nations which expressed outrage and demanded an independent investigation after military strikes on three UN-run schools in Gaza on Tuesday killed 48 people.

Forty-three people were killed in the deadliest strike at Jabaliya. The army said its investigation found militants had fired at Israeli forces from inside the school and Hamas militants were among those killed.

The United Nations denied this.

"Following an initial investigation, we are 99.9 percent sure that there were no militants or militant activities in the school and the school compound," Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, told AFP.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 07:30:18 pm


              (http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20090107/capt.942f183e39ec4330926cc464b26521be.mideast_israel_palestinians_jrl133.jpg?x=252&y=345&q=85&sig=7vualscRaqzhCpNvtoyH3Q--)





Palestinians pray over the bodies of people killed near a United Nations school Tuesday, during their funeral in the Jebaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009.

Israel's military paused its Gaza offensive for three hours Wednesday to allow food and fuel to reach besieged Palestinians, and the country's leaders debated whether to accept an international cease-fire plan or expand the assault against Hamas. With criticism rising of the operation's spiraling civilian death toll and Gazans increasingly suffering the effects of nonstop airstrikes and shelling, Israel's military said it opened 'humanitarian corridors' to allow aid supplies to reach Palestinians.

(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 07:33:30 pm


              (http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20090107/capt.41a2eac62e324363ba20334d7de6b72b.aptopix_mideast_israel_palestinians_jrl132.jpg?x=400&y=263&q=85&sig=BSedprtXqGhc0.2PuExxpQ--)





Palestinians walk in the rubble following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah refugee camp southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009. Israel ordered a pause in its Gaza offensive Wednesday for three hours to allow food and fuel to reach besieged Palestinians, as the country's leaders debated whether to accept an international cease-fire plan or to expand the assault against Hamas.

(AP Photo/Khaled Omar)


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 07:36:56 pm




              (http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20090107/capt.62383e3fd0214821be56f06fbdd24327.aptopix_mideast_israel_palestinians_jrl124.jpg?x=400&y=266&q=85&sig=qj57Yd5D9Im62dVE3CTiNw--)


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 07:47:32 pm



                (http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/the_funeral_of_three_children_from_al_astal_family_killed_by_the_israeli_shelling_on_their_home_on_friday__photo_by_wafa.jpg)

                 THREE DEAD LITTLE BROTHERS - THE OLDEST BARELY FOUR YEARS OLD





After Israel LEVELED Lebanon over a border skirmish involving 2 missing sentries,

my lifelong support of Israel is OVER!



These attacks on the people of Gaza, who are CONFINED like swine

by the Israelis are a hateful disgrace and criminal acts that cry out for justice!!!


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 07, 2009, 08:29:46 pm









                                       Gaza fighting rages despite cease-fire proposal
     







Jan. 7, 2009
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip

– Israel resumed its Gaza offensive Wednesday, bombing heavily around suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt after a three-hour lull to allow in humanitarian aid. Hamas responded with a rocket barrage. Despite the heavy fighting, strides were made on the diplomatic front with the U.S. throwing its weight behind a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.

While the Security Council failed to reach agreement on a cease-fire resolution, Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo Thursday.

Israeli airstrikes killed 29 Palestinians on Wednesday after leaflets were dropped warning residents to leave the area "because Hamas uses your houses to hide and smuggle military weapons."

The casualties brought the total Palestinian death toll during Israel's 12-day assault to 688 and drove home the complexities of finding a diplomatic endgame for Israel's Gaza invasion. Ten Israelis have been killed, including three civilians, since the offensive began Dec. 27.

More than 5,000 people have fled the border area, seeking refuge at two U.N. schools turned into temporary shelters.

The fury of the renewed fighting made it appear each side was scrambling to get in as many hits as possible before a truce could materialize.

"I feel like the ground is shaking when we hear the shelling. People are terrified," said Fida Kishta, a resident of the Gaza-Egypt border area where Israeli planes destroyed 16 empty houses.

In Turkey, a Mideast diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly said that country would be asked to put together an international force that could help keep the peace. And diplomats in New York worked on a U.N. Security Council statement backing the cease-fire initiative but failed to reach agreement on action to end the violence.

"We are very much applauding the efforts of a number of states, particularly the effort that President (Hosni) Mubarak has undertaken on behalf of Egypt," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. "We're supporting that initiative."

The army, which has refused to allow journalists into Gaza, permitted two TV teams to accompany soldiers on patrol for the first time. The footage showed soldiers walking through a deserted street in an unidentified location in Gaza.

The Israeli military correspondent who accompanied the soldiers said they were concerned about Hamas booby-traps. He said they were shooting through walls, throwing grenades around corners, going from house to house looking for Hamas gunmen and using bomb sniffer dogs. Buildings showed bullet and shrapnel marks. "We used a lot of fire," said an officer in the group, Lt. Col. Ofer.

Hamas, meanwhile, fired rockets, though at a slower pace than previous days, hitting the towns of Ashkelon and Beersheba with the sort of longer range missiles never seen before this war. Rockets were still hitting the cities after midnight, but there were no immediate reports of injury.

Despite the violence, a surprise announcement in Paris on Wednesday put a spotlight on diplomacy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority had accepted the cease-fire deal, but he made no mention of Hamas, without whom no truce could work. The Palestinian Authority controls only the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza — two territories on opposite sides of Israel that are supposed to make up a future Palestinian state.

Later, Israeli officials made it clear Sarkozy's statement was not exactly accurate.

"Israel welcomes the initiative of the French president and the Egyptian president to bring about a sustainable quiet in the south," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

But for Israel to accept the proposal, he said, "there has to be a total and complete cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and ... we have to see an arms embargo on Hamas that will receive international support."

For its part, Hamas said it would not accept a truce deal unless it includes an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza — something Israel says it is not willing to do.

"There must be guarantees to ensure Israel will not breach this package, including halting the aggression, lifting the blockade and opening the crossings," said Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas adviser.

Growing international outrage over the human toll of Israel's offensive, which includes 3,000 Palestinians wounded — could work against continued fighting. So could President Bush's departure from office this month and a Feb. 10 election in Israel.

But Israel has a big interest in inflicting as much damage as possible on Hamas, both to stop militant rocket fire on southern Israeli towns and to diminish the group's ability to play a spoiler role in peace talks with Palestinian moderates.

The Israeli Cabinet formally decided on Wednesday to push ahead with the offensive while at the same time pursuing the cease-fire option. Israeli officials also rejected Hamas' call to open the border crossings, which Israel has largely kept closed since the group seized the territory by force in June 2007.

The military has called up thousands of reserve troops that it could use to expand the Gaza offensive. Defense officials said the troops could be ready for action by Friday.

Still, Israel briefly suspended its offensive Wednesday to allow humanitarian supplies to reach Gaza, and Israeli officials said such lulls would be declared on a regular basis.

The announcement came among growing warnings by the World Bank and aid groups of a humanitarian crisis. The Word Bank pointed to a severe shortage of drinking water and said the sewage system is under growing strain.

Solafa Odeh, a resident of the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, said around 100 people in her community were lining up for fresh water outside a local grocery store Wednesday. "We were only allowed half a gallon each, and I saw some people walk away with their jerry cans empty," Odeh said.

Of the 688 Palestinians killed since Dec. 27, some 350 were civilians, among them 130 children, according to Palestinian officials.

During Wednesday's lull, Israel allowed in 80 trucks of supplies as well as industrial fuel for Gaza's power plant. Medics tried to retrieve bodies in areas that had previously been too dangerous to approach.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said in a statement that one of its ambulance drivers was shot by Israeli soldiers during the lull. The Israeli military said it had no knowledge of the incident.

Medic Mohammed Azayzeh in central Gaza pulled out three people, killed by shrapnel fire Sunday, from the border town of Mughraqa, where Israeli tanks had settled nearby. The medic said he also found a dead family of three, including a father cradling a 1-year-old boy.

In the Jebaliya refugee camp, residents on Wednesday held a mass funeral for 40 people killed a day before by Israeli mortar fire toward a U.N. school. Israel says Hamas militants fired mortar shells from an area near the school, and that Israeli responded to this attack.

The bodies, wrapped in blankets, were laid out in a long row on the ground, with mourners kneeling in Muslim prayer before them. Among the mourners was Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator.

Also Wednesday, Israel released footage of suspected Hamas militants captured by Israeli troops. Israel's chief army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, said 120 suspected militants have been captured. He also said soldiers conducting searches have uncovered many explosive devices and tunnels.

"We uncovered many tunnels for kidnapping soldiers, at least one car bomb, booby trapped dolls, tunnels — an underground city," Benyahu said on Israel TV's Channel 10.

The CARE aid organization said one of its workers was killed Monday in an Israeli airstrike.

___

Steven Gutkin reported from Jerusalem


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 07:00:54 am








                                    Attack on Israel from Lebanon threatens 2nd front
     





Associated Press Writers
Ibrahim Barzak And
Steve Weizman,
Associated Press Writers
Jan. 8, 2009–
JERUSALEM

– Lebanese militants fired at least three rockets into Israel early Thursday, threatening to open a new front for the Jewish state as it pushed forward with a bloody offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed nearly 700 people.

Two people were lightly injured, and the rockets that exploded in Israel's north raised the specter of renewed hostilities with Hezbollah, just 2 1/2 years after Israel battled the guerrilla group to a 34-day stalemate.

No group claimed responsibility and Lebanon's government, wary of conflict, quickly condemned the rocket fire. Israel fired mortar shells into southern Lebanon in response.

For a second straight day, Israel said it suspended is Gaza military operation for three hours to allow in humanitarian supplies.

Before the lull on Thursday, Israel killed at least 11 people in Gaza, including five militants, raising the death toll from its 13-day offensive to 699 people, according to Palestinian medical officials. The offensive is meant to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel, but with roughly half the dead believed to be civilians, international efforts to broker a cease-fire have been gaining steam.

One of the Lebanese rockets went through the roof of a retirement home in Nahariya, about five miles from the border, and exploded in the kitchen as some 25 residents were eating breakfast in the adjacent dining hall. One resident suffered a broken leg, another bruises, apparently from slipping on the floor after emergency sprinklers came on.

"The rocket entered through the roof, hurling the water heaters into the air. It went through bedrooms upstairs and then into the kitchen. There was a serious blast," said Henry Carmelli, the home's manager.

About three hours later, air-raid sirens went off again. But authorities said it was a false alarm.

Israel has repeatedly said it was prepared for a possible attack on the north since it launched its bruising campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza on Dec. 27. Israel has mobilized thousands of reserve troops for such a scenario, and leaders have warned Hezbollah of dire consequences if it enters the fighting.

"We are following what is happening in the north. We are prepared and will respond as necessary," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora condemned both the attacks and Israel's retaliatory fire. The attacks are "the work of parties who stand to lose from the continued stability in Lebanon," Saniora said.

Hezbollah, which did not comment, has said it does not want to draw Lebanon into a new war. Small Palestinian groups, who have rocketed Israel twice since the end of the 2006 war, have recently threatened to open a new front against Israel if the fighting in Gaza continued.

An Israeli Cabinet minister, Meir Sheetrit, suggested that Lebanese splinter groups, not Hezbollah, were responsible. He said the government had no interest in renewing hostilities.

"Even though we have the ability to respond with great force, the response needs to be carefully considered and responsible," Sheetrit told Army Radio. "We don't need to play into their hands."

Shortly after the first rockets fell around the town of Nahariya, five miles south of the Lebanese border, Lebanese TV stations reported Israeli mortar fire on open areas in southern Lebanon. The Israeli military confirmed it carried out "pinpoint fire" in response without elaborating.

Israeli defense commentators said they expected the rocket fire to be a one-time show of solidarity with the Palestinians, not a declaration of war. Still, police said public bomb shelters throughout the north were opened.

Palestinians reported some two dozen airstrikes in Gaza on Thursday. One militant was killed and 10 wounded in Gaza City, while an airstrike in northern Gaza killed three members of a rocket-launching cell, Palestinian medical officials said. The attack took place about 150 yards from a hospital and wounded 12 bystanders. The Israeli army has repeatedly said militants use civilian areas for cover.

Nine other Palestinians were killed in separate incidents, including three civilians — en elderly man and two women — who were fleeing their homes in northern Gaza, officials said.

In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a Gaza home hit by Israeli shelling. The neutral aid group says a total of 15 dead were recovered from two houses in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City on Wednesday.

A Red Cross spokesman says rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay in allowing rescue services access was"unacceptable."

The Israeli offensive has reduced Palestinian rocket fire, but not stopped it altogether. Several barrages were reported Thursday, including one strike that damaged a school and sports center in the southern city of Ashkelon, police said. Both buildings were empty.

For a second day, Israel's Defense Ministry said the offensive was halted for three hours to allow Gaza residents to stock up on supplies and to allow aid shipments into the besieged area. Ministry spokesman Peter Lerner also said some 300 Palestinian holders of foreign passports would be allowed to leave.

The lull appears to be in response to international pressure on Israel to try relieve civilian suffering in Gaza. U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness said three hours was "wholly inadequate" and would not be enough to relieve widespread food and water shortages.

After Wednesday's lull, Israel quickly resumed its offensive, bombing suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt after Hamas responded with a rocket barrage. Israeli planes destroyed at least 16 empty houses.

The tunnels are Hamas' lifeline, used to bring in arms, money and basic goods. Israel says local homes are used to conceal the tunnels.

Of the Palestinians killed since Dec. 27, some 350 were civilians, among them 130 children, according to Palestinian medical officials. Eleven Israelis have been killed, including three civilians, since the offensive began. The army said Thursday that an infantry officer was killed by an anti-tank missile.

Growing international outrage over the human toll of Israel's offensive, which includes 3,000 Palestinians wounded — could work against continued fighting. So could President Bush's departure from office this month and a Feb. 10 election in Israel.

But Israel has a big interest in inflicting as much damage as possible on Hamas, both to stop militant rocket fire on southern Israeli towns and to diminish the group's ability to play a spoiler role in peace talks with Palestinian moderates.

Despite the heavy fighting, strides appeared to be made on the diplomatic front with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying the U.S. supported a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.

While the U.N. Security Council failed to reach agreement on a cease-fire resolution, Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli envoys arrived in Egypt on Thursday to discuss the proposal.

For Israel to accept a proposed cease-fire deal, "there has to be a total and complete cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and ... we have to see an arms embargo on Hamas that will receive international support," said government spokesman Mark Regev.

For its part, Hamas said it would not accept a truce deal unless it includes an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza — something Israel says it is not willing to do. Israel and Egypt have maintained a stiff economic embargo on Gaza since the Hamas takeover.

The Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza — two territories on opposite sides of Israel that are supposed to make up a future Palestinian state. Hamas took control of Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007.

The Israeli Cabinet formally decided on Wednesday to push ahead with the offensive while at the same time pursuing the cease-fire.

The military has called up thousands of reserve troops that it could use to expand the Gaza offensive. Defense officials said the troops could be ready for action by Friday.

In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a Gaza home hit by Israeli shelling. The neutral aid group says a total of 15 dead were recovered from two houses in the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City on Wednesday.

A Red Cross spokesman said rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay in allowing rescue services access was "unacceptable."

___

Weizman reported from Jerusalem and Barzak from Gaza City. Associated Press writer Sam F. Ghattas contributed to this report from Beirut, Lebanon.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 07:08:12 am







                                       UN: Israel kills driver on aid mission to Gaza






Jan. 8, 2009
AP
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip

– A U.N. official in the Gaza Strip says Israeli forces have fired on a truck on a U.N. aid mission and killed the driver.

U.N. spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna says the incident took place during a lull declared by Israel to allow humanitarian aid to enter the territory.

He says the U.N. coordinated the delivery with Israel, and the vehicle and was marked with a U.N. flag and insignia when it was shot in northern Gaza.

The Israeli army said it was investigating.

Earlier this week, an Israeli attack near a U.N. school killed more than 30 people. At the time, Israel said it opened fire after militants hiding in the crowd shot mortar shells at Israeli troops.



THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.



JERUSALEM (AP)

— Lebanese militants fired at least three rockets into Israel early Thursday, threatening to open a new front for the Jewish state as it pushed forward with a bloody offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed nearly 700 people.

Two people were lightly injured, and the rockets that exploded in Israel's north raised the specter of renewed hostilities with Hezbollah, just 2 1/2 years after Israel battled the guerrilla group to a 34-day stalemate. Hezbollah started the 2006 war as Israel was battling Palestinian militants in Gaza.

No group claimed responsibility and Lebanon's government, wary of conflict, quickly condemned the rocket fire. Israel fired mortar shells into southern Lebanon in response.

For a second straight day, Israel said it suspended is Gaza military operation for three hours to allow in humanitarian supplies.

Before the lull on Thursday, Israel killed at least 11 people in Gaza, including five militants, raising the death toll from its 13-day offensive to 699 people, according to Palestinian medical officials. The offensive is meant to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel, but with roughly half the dead believed to be civilians, international efforts to broker a cease-fire have been gaining steam.

One of the Lebanese rockets went through the roof of a retirement home in Nahariya, about five miles from the border, and exploded in the kitchen as some 25 residents were eating breakfast in the adjacent dining hall. One resident suffered a broken leg, another bruises, apparently from slipping on the floor after emergency sprinklers came on.

"The rocket entered through the roof, hurling the water heaters into the air. It went through bedrooms upstairs and then into the kitchen. There was a serious blast," said Henry Carmelli, the home's manager.

About three hours later, air-raid sirens went off again. But authorities said it was a false alarm.

Israel has repeatedly said it was prepared for a possible attack on the north since it launched its bruising campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza on Dec. 27. Israel has mobilized thousands of reserve troops for such a scenario, and leaders have warned Hezbollah of dire consequences if it enters the fighting.

"We are following what is happening in the north. We are prepared and will respond as necessary," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora condemned both the attacks and Israel's retaliatory fire. The attacks are "the work of parties who stand to lose from the continued stability in Lebanon," Saniora said.

Hezbollah, which did not comment, has said it does not want to draw Lebanon into a new war. Small Palestinian groups, who have rocketed Israel twice since the end of the 2006 war, have recently threatened to open a new front against Israel if the fighting in Gaza continued.

An Israeli Cabinet minister, Meir Sheetrit, suggested that Lebanese splinter groups, not Hezbollah, were responsible. He said the government had no interest in renewing hostilities.

"Even though we have the ability to respond with great force, the response needs to be carefully considered and responsible," Sheetrit told Army Radio. "We don't need to play into their hands."

Shortly after the first rockets fell around the town of Nahariya, five miles south of the Lebanese border, Lebanese TV stations reported Israeli mortar fire on open areas in southern Lebanon. The Israeli military confirmed it carried out "pinpoint fire" in response without elaborating.

Israeli defense commentators said they expected the rocket fire to be a one-time show of solidarity with the Palestinians, not a declaration of war. Still, police said public bomb shelters throughout the north were opened.

Palestinians reported some two dozen airstrikes in Gaza on Thursday. One militant was killed and 10 wounded in Gaza City, while an airstrike in northern Gaza killed three members of a rocket-launching cell, Palestinian medical officials said. The attack took place about 150 yards from a hospital and wounded 12 bystanders. The Israeli army has repeatedly said militants use civilian areas for cover.

Nine other Palestinians were killed in separate incidents, including three civilians — en elderly man and two women — who were fleeing their homes in northern Gaza, officials said.

In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a Gaza home hit by Israeli shelling. The neutral aid group says a total of 15 dead were recovered from two houses in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City on Wednesday.

A Red Cross spokesman says rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay in allowing rescue services access was"unacceptable."

The Israeli offensive has reduced Palestinian rocket fire, but not stopped it altogether. Several barrages were reported Thursday, including one strike that damaged a school and sports center in the southern city of Ashkelon, police said. Both buildings were empty.

For a second day, Israel's Defense Ministry said the offensive was halted for three hours to allow Gaza residents to stock up on supplies and to allow aid shipments into the besieged area. Ministry spokesman Peter Lerner also said some 300 Palestinian holders of foreign passports would be allowed to leave.

The lull appears to be in response to international pressure on Israel to try relieve civilian suffering in Gaza. U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness said three hours was "wholly inadequate" and would not be enough to relieve widespread food and water shortages.

After Wednesday's lull, Israel quickly resumed its offensive, bombing suspected smuggling tunnels near the border with Egypt after Hamas responded with a rocket barrage. Israeli planes destroyed at least 16 empty houses.

The tunnels are Hamas' lifeline, used to bring in arms, money and basic goods. Israel says local homes are used to conceal the tunnels.

Of the Palestinians killed since Dec. 27, some 350 were civilians, among them 130 children, according to Palestinian medical officials. Eleven Israelis have been killed, including three civilians, since the offensive began. The army said Thursday that an infantry officer was killed by an anti-tank missile.

Growing international outrage over the human toll of Israel's offensive, which includes 3,000 Palestinians wounded — could work against continued fighting. So could President Bush's departure from office this month and a Feb. 10 election in Israel.

But Israel has a big interest in inflicting as much damage as possible on Hamas, both to stop militant rocket fire on southern Israeli towns and to diminish the group's ability to play a spoiler role in peace talks with Palestinian moderates.

Despite the heavy fighting, strides appeared to be made on the diplomatic front with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying the U.S. supported a deal being brokered by France and Egypt.

While the U.N. Security Council failed to reach agreement on a cease-fire resolution, Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said representatives of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority agreed to meet separately with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli envoys arrived in Egypt on Thursday to discuss the proposal.

For Israel to accept a proposed cease-fire deal, "there has to be a total and complete cessation of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and ... we have to see an arms embargo on Hamas that will receive international support," said government spokesman Mark Regev.

For its part, Hamas said it would not accept a truce deal unless it includes an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza — something Israel says it is not willing to do. Israel and Egypt have maintained a stiff economic embargo on Gaza since the Hamas takeover.

The Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza — two territories on opposite sides of Israel that are supposed to make up a future Palestinian state. Hamas took control of Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007.

The Israeli Cabinet formally decided on Wednesday to push ahead with the offensive while at the same time pursuing the cease-fire.

The military has called up thousands of reserve troops that it could use to expand the Gaza offensive. Defense officials said the troops could be ready for action by Friday.

In Geneva, the international Red Cross said it found four small children alive next to their mothers' bodies in the rubble of a Gaza home hit by Israeli shelling. The neutral aid group says a total of 15 dead were recovered from two houses in the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City on Wednesday.

A Red Cross spokesman said rescuers had been refused permission by Israeli forces to reach the site for four days. It said the delay in allowing rescue services access was "unacceptable."

___

Weizman reported from Jerusalem and Barzak from Gaza City. Associated Press writer Sam F. Ghattas contributed to this report from Beirut, Lebanon.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 07:44:37 am









                         How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe






Oxford professor of international relations Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army and has never questioned the state's legitimacy.

But its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions



Avi Shlaim
The Guardian, UK
Wednesday 7 January 2009

The only way to make sense of Israel's senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel's vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration's complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.

I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.

Four decades of Israeli control did incalculable damage to the economy of the Gaza Strip. With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza's prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion's share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

In August 2005 a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defence Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.

The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.

Israel's settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.

Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never in its entire history done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only genuine democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognise the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organisation.

America and the EU shamelessly joined Israel in ostracising and demonising the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.

As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes. Israel's propaganda machine persistently purveyed the notion that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they reject coexistence with the Jewish state, that their nationalism is little more than antisemitism, that Hamas is just a bunch of religious fanatics and that Islam is incompatible with democracy. But the simple truth is that the Palestinian people are a normal people with normal aspirations. They are no better but they are no worse than any other national group. What they aspire to, above all, is a piece of land to call their own on which to live in freedom and dignity.

Like other radical movements, Hamas began to moderate its political programme following its rise to power. From the ideological rejectionism of its charter, it began to move towards pragmatic accommodation of a two-state solution. In March 2007, Hamas and Fatah formed a national unity government that was ready to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Israel, however, refused to negotiate with a government that included Hamas.

It continued to play the old game of divide and rule between rival Palestinian factions. In the late 1980s, Israel had supported the nascent Hamas in order to weaken Fatah, the secular nationalist movement led by Yasser Arafat. Now Israel began to encourage the corrupt and pliant Fatah leaders to overthrow their religious political rivals and recapture power. Aggressive American neoconservatives participated in the sinister plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to pre-empt a Fatah coup.

The war unleashed by Israel on Gaza on 27 December was the culmination of a series of clashes and confrontations with the Hamas government. In a broader sense, however, it is a war between Israel and the Palestinian people, because the people had elected the party to power. The declared aim of the war is to weaken Hamas and to intensify the pressure until its leaders agree to a new ceasefire on Israel's terms. The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians in Gaza are seen by the world simply as a humanitarian problem and thus to derail their struggle for independence and statehood.

The timing of the war was determined by political expediency. A general election is scheduled for 10 February and, in the lead-up to the election, all the main contenders are looking for an opportunity to prove their toughness. The army top brass had been champing at the bit to deliver a crushing blow to Hamas in order to remove the stain left on their reputation by the failure of the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in July 2006. Israel's cynical leaders could also count on apathy and impotence of the pro-western Arab regimes and on blind support from President Bush in the twilight of his term in the White House. Bush readily obliged by putting all the blame for the crisis on Hamas, vetoing proposals at the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire and issuing Israel with a free pass to mount a ground invasion of Gaza.

As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted - a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, "crying and shooting".

To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party in this conflict. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak - terror. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad kept launching Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near the border with Gaza until Egypt brokered a six-month ceasefire last June. The damage caused by these primitive rockets is minimal but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Under the circumstances, Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

Whatever the numbers, killing civilians is wrong. This rule applies to Israel as much as it does to Hamas, but Israel's entire record is one of unbridled and unremitting brutality towards the inhabitants of Gaza. Israel also maintained the blockade of Gaza after the ceasefire came into force which, in the view of the Hamas leaders, amounted to a violation of the agreement. During the ceasefire, Israel prevented any exports from leaving the strip in clear violation of a 2005 accord, leading to a sharp drop in employment opportunities. Officially, 49.1% of the population is unemployed. At the same time, Israel restricted drastically the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.

The brutality of Israel's soldiers is fully matched by the mendacity of its spokesmen. Eight months before launching the current war on Gaza, Israel established a National Information Directorate. The core messages of this directorate to the media are that Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements; that Israel's objective is the defence of its population; and that Israel's forces are taking the utmost care not to hurt innocent civilians. Israel's spin doctors have been remarkably successful in getting this message across. But, in essence, their propaganda is a pack of lies.

A wide gap separates the reality of Israel's actions from the rhetoric of its spokesmen. It was not Hamas but the IDF that broke the ceasefire. It di d so by a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas men. Israel's objective is not just the defence of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza by turning the people against their rulers. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel's insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash. After eight days of bombing, with a death toll of more than 400 Palestinians and four Israelis, the gung-ho cabinet ordered a land invasion of Gaza the consequences of which are incalculable.

No amount of military escalation can buy Israel immunity from rocket attacks from the military wing of Hamas. Despite all the death and destruction that Israel has inflicted on them, they kept up their resistance and they kept firing their rockets. This is a movement that glorifies victimhood and martyrdom. There is simply no military solution to the conflict between the two communities. The problem with Israel's concept of security is that it denies even the most elementary security to the other community. The only way for Israel to achieve security is not through shooting but through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders for 20, 30, or even 50 years. Israel has rejected this offer for the same reason it spurned the Arab League peace plan of 2002, which is still on the table: it involves concessions and compromises.

This brief review of Israel's record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders". A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism - the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel's real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones. Politicians, like everyone else, are of course free to repeat the lies and mistakes of the past. But it is not mandatory to do so.



• Avi Shlaim is a professor of international relations at
the University of Oxford
and the author of
The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World and of
Lion of Jordan: King Hussein's Life in War and Peace.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 08:05:09 am









                           Israel's Gaza invasion provokes protests throughout Latin America


   



Tyler Bridges,
Mcclatchy Newspapers –
Wed Jan 7, 2009
CARACAS,
Venezuela

— Opposition to Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip is heating up throughout Latin America .

Venezuela has expelled Israel's ambassador. Guatemala and Colombia have called on Israel to stop fighting and begin immediate peace talks. Demonstrators in Argentina , El Salvador and Bolivia have condemned the invasion. Brazil is sending aid to victims.

"There is a tradition in Latin America of rejecting violence to solve any international conflict," said Adrian Bonilla , the director of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador . "There is also a tradition of supporting the weakest country in a conflict since most Latin American countries have been part of the Third World network. Another factor is that Israel is a close ally of the United States ."

Not surprisingly, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has taken the harshest stance. On Tuesday, he kicked out Israel's ambassador and diplomatic staff. The Palestinian militant Islamist group Hamas applauded the move on Wednesday as a "courageous step."

Chavez on Wednesday showed the photograph of a Palestinian child killed by Israeli bombs and said Israeli leaders should be tried for killing innocent men, women and children.

"Behind Israel is the American empire," Chavez said.

Chavez questioned why President-elect Barack Obama "until now hasn't said anything" about Israel's aggression.

Abraham Levy , the president of the Confederation of Israeli Associations in Venezuela , said Wednesday that he found Chavez's comments "worrisome." He noted that Israel and Venezuela had warm relations until Chavez began seeking close ties with Iran and denounced Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon .

Some 15,000 Jews live in Venezuela .

The biggest protest in Latin America has taken place in Argentina , where some 20,000 people marched Tuesday from the Obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires to the Israeli Embassy . Arab and student groups organized the march, along with the Argentine Communist Party and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human rights organization.

The protesters carried Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese flags and signs saying " Israel : Leave Gaza now" and "We are all Palestinians." The march was peaceful, but some of the protesters threw paint and shoes against the embassy.

"The fifth largest army of the world is fighting against a helpless society," Alejandro Salomon , the president of the Confederation of Argentina Arab Entities , said in an interview Wednesday. "We are protesting against the small effort made by the international community to stop this manslaughter."

Jews are planning a pro- Israel countermarch in Buenos Aires on Thursday, ending at a building destroyed by Arab terrorists in a 1994 car bombing that killed nearly 100 people. With an estimated 240,000 Jews, Buenos Aires is said to be the second biggest home of Jews in the Americas after New York City .

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Argentina , Iftaf Curiel, told the Jewish News Agency that Argentinians should support the "moderate elements of the (Middle Eastern) region — Israel , the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan — that are confronting the extreme elements of Iran , Hezbollah and Hamas ."

Israeli officials have said they launched the Gaza invasion on Dec. 27 as a defensive measure to halt rocket fire from Hamas militants.

Televised images of the carnage have been shown throughout Latin America , especially on Telesur, the region-wide television network financed by the Venezuelan government. The attacks have killed some 600 Palestinians, including children.

The invasion seems to be winning Israel few friends in Latin America .

Colombia's foreign minister, Jaime Bermudez , called on Israel to end "all types of military aggression" and to undertake dialogue with Palestinians.

Guatemala demanded an immediate end to the invasion in Gaza and said Israel needs to begin respecting international law and allowing greater humanitarian aid to victims.

Lawmakers in Ecuador condemned Israel's action and called for an international investigation of "crimes against humanity."

About 100 people in San Salvador , mostly dressed in white, held a peaceful protest in front of the Israeli Embassy on Wednesday. Dozens more protested in Sao Paulo, Brazil .

In Bolivia , which became a way station for Jews escaping the Nazis during World War II, about 100 Palestinians and Arabs marched on Tuesday to protest the violence.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian government announced on Wednesday that it would send 14 tons of food and medicine for victims in Gaza .

Despite the harsh verbal attacks by some governments and protesters, Jews say they face little anti-Semitism in Latin America on a daily basis.

"My experience has been generally very positive," said David Handel , an American Jew based in La Paz, Bolivia , who has conducted orchestras throughout Latin America .


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 08:09:17 am









                                             Can Israel Survive Its Assault on Gaza?
     





Tim Mcgirk
Time.com
Jerusalem –
Thu Jan 8, 2009

As Israeli troops encircle Gaza City, their commanders are faced with a painful dilemma: How far must they advance into the deadly labyrinth of slums and refugee camps where Hamas militants await with booby-trapped houses and snipers? With each passing day, Israel's war against Hamas grows riskier and more punishing, with the gains appearing to diminish compared to the spiraling costs - to Israel's moral stature, to the lives of Palestinian civilians and to the world's hopes that an ancient conflict can ever be resolved. Ideally, in a war shaped by television images, Israelis would like a tableau of surrender: grimy Hamas commanders crawling from underground bunkers with their hands up. Instead, the deaths of at least 40 civilians taking shelter at a United Nations-run school north of Gaza City are more likely to become the dominant image of the war. Israeli politicians and generals know that the total elimination of Hamas' entrenched military command could take weeks; it might be altogether impossible. The more realistic outcome is an unsatisfactory, brokered truce that leaves Hamas wounded but alive and able to regenerate - and Israel only temporarily safe from attack.


Israel's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, has promised a "war to the bitter end." But after 60 years of struggle to defend their existence against foreign threats and enemies within, many Israelis may be wondering, Where does that end lie? The threat posed by Hamas is only the most immediate of the many interlocking challenges facing Israel, some of which cast dark shadows over the long-term viability of a democratic Jewish state. The offensive in Gaza may degrade Hamas' ability to menace southern Israel with rocket fire, but, as with Israel's 2006 war against Hizballah, the application of force won't extinguish the militants' ideological fervor. The anti-Israeli anger swelling in the region has made it more difficult for Arab governments to join Israel in its efforts to deal with Iran, the patron of both Hamas and Hizballah and a state whose leaders have sworn to eliminate Israel and appear determined to acquire nuclear weapons. (See pictures of grief in the Middle East.)


Just as ominous for many Israelis is a ticking demographic time bomb: the likelihood that Arabs will vastly outnumber Jews in the land stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean is a catastrophic prospect for a nation that defines itself by its faith. At some point, Israelis will have to choose between living with an independent Palestinian state or watching Jews become a minority in their own land.


As much as any other nation on earth, Israel is based on a dream: the aspiration to establish a home for the Jews in the birthplace of their ancestors. To a remarkable extent, that dream has been fulfilled, as Israel has grown into the most modern and democratic country in the Middle East and a dependable American ally. A strong, confident Israel is in America's interest, but so is one that can find peace with its neighbors, cooperate with the Arabs to contain common threats and, most important, reach a just and lasting solution with the Palestinians. But accomplishing all that will require Israel and its defenders to confront excruciating dilemmas: How do you make peace with those who don't seem to want it? How do you win a war when the other side believes time is on its side? And what would true security, in a hostile neighborhood populated with enemies, actually look like? As is always true in the Middle East, there are no easy answers. But it's never been more vital that Israel start looking for them.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 08:11:06 am








How to Deal with Hamas



The most immediate challenge facing Israel is that posed by Hamas. Gaza's tragedy has for days been playing out on the world's TV sets. By Jan. 7, more than 700 Palestinians, many of them noncombatants, had been killed. But there's something tragic, too, in Israel's predicament: in any confrontation with its enemies, it is damned if it does and doomed if it doesn't. Across Israel's political spectrum there seems to be a consensus that Hamas' provocative rocket barrages could not go unanswered - though whether Israel's response has been proportional to the threat is, at the least, questionable.

Perhaps more threatening than the rockets themselves was the doubt they cast over Israel's vaunted power of deterrence, which is key to keeping its hostile neighbors at bay. That power was badly eroded in 2006, when Hizballah was able to withstand the Israeli onslaught, force a cease-fire and claim victory in the process. That surely emboldened Hamas, which intermittently sent rockets into southern Israel and finally prompted Israel to respond in force. As respected Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, "A country that is afraid to deal with Hamas won't be able either to deter Iran or to safeguard its interests in dealing with Syria, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority."


But the cold reality is that eventually Israel may need to look not to "deal" with Hamas so much as do a deal with it. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he doesn't intend to topple Hamas; he knows Israel can't fill the vacuum of leadership that its elimination would produce in Gaza. Neither can Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's preferred Palestinian leader, who is fading into the background in the West Bank. So Israel has said it will be satisfied if Hamas stops shooting rockets and an international force polices the Egyptian border to keep the militants from re-arming themselves with weapons smuggled through tunnels.


Hamas says it will agree to a truce if Israel retreats from Gaza and loosens the economic choke hold that has strangled the 1.5 million Palestinians who live on the sliver of land along the Mediterranean. After weeks of global outrage over the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Gaza, any mediator - France, the European Union, Turkey and Egypt are all auditioning for the role - will insist that Israel end its 18-month blockade.


What then? Like Hizballah, Hamas will declare itself victorious: not only will it have survived a direct assault by a far superior military force, but it will also have freed Gazans from Israeli tyranny. As an added bonus, any economic revival of Gaza would put money into Hamas' coffers. But Israel would gain some breathing space and force Hamas to prove it can actually govern and maintain stability in Gaza rather than heap blame entirely on Israel.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 08:12:12 am








The Specter of Iran



One indirect objective of the Gaza offensive might have been to warn off Israel's other nonstate militant foe: Hizballah. While the Lebanese group has been cheering on Hamas from the sidelines, it has refrained from entering the fray. Hizballah may have a stockpile of new rockets, but Israeli generals hope Gaza will serve as a cautionary example of what would happen if it used them. This is a reassuring thought, but it remains to be tested. After all, Hizballah's rockets have only one purpose, and that is to be used against Israel.


The broader aim of the Gaza war, Israeli security experts argue, was to send a message to Hamas' sponsor, Iran. It's certainly true that the assault has broken the Iranian pipeline that delivered weapons and funds to the militants. But by killing hundreds of Palestinians, Israel may have undermined its hopes of forming common cause with moderate Sunni Arab states against the nuclear ambitions of Shi'ite Iran.


The Gaza offensive has greatly weakened Israel's few Arab allies. Moderate Arab countries that were edging closer to recognition of the Jewish state are now recoiling from what they see as the slaughter of fellow Arabs in Gaza. In Egypt, pro-Gaza protests turned into thinly veiled attacks on President Hosni Mubarak's rule, which has helped maintain the blockade of Gaza. The pressure may force Mubarak to support a truce that entails opening the Egypt-Gaza border as Hamas demands, but he is unlikely to soften his position on the Palestinian group that maintains links with Egyptian Islamists as well as the Iranian regime.


But how far Arab states will be willing to go now to make peace with Israel is unclear. The Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Plan, which offered Israel peace with 22 Arab countries if it withdrew to its 1967 borders, will remain on the table for Israel's new PM to consider. Even Syria, a prime supporter of Hamas, spent part of 2008 in indirect peace talks with Israel mediated by Turkey. But Syria has broken off its talks for now, destroying any chance that Damascus, on behalf of Israel, might put pressure on the exiled Hamas leaders residing there.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 08:13:17 am








Confronting the Danger Within



Even in a dangerous neighborhood, it is possible to imagine that, secure in its military power, Israel could continue for years in a state of neither all-out war nor true peace, always willing to fight bitter but limited conflicts of the kind it did in Lebanon and Gaza. But military might would be useless against the threat that looms within its borders. Israel's population of 7.1 million is today divided into 5.4 million Jews and 1.6 million Arabs. But if you include Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank, they may already have a slender majority; and given their higher birthrate, the gap will widen quickly. This tectonic shift in demographics is what scared even hawkish Israelis like former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into abandoning the biblical dreams of a Greater Israel stretching all the way from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. As Olmert recently warned, "If we are determined to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel, we must inevitably relinquish, with great pain, parts of our homeland." In other words, if Israelis cling to the West Bank and Gaza, as many religious Zionists insist, Jews will find themselves a shrinking minority in their own state.

Not only would Israel cease to be a Jewish state, it would no longer be a democratic one either, unless Arabs are given a fair share of power. A few bold Arab intellectuals are saying Palestinians should abandon the idea of a two-state solution and just wait until they outnumber the Jews. That would take decades, and it may rest more on wishful thinking by Palestinians than a real calculation of political reality. But the population shift underscores a plain fact: for Israel, the status quo won't be good enough for much longer.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 08:14:52 am








A Road Map for Survival
The path to a workable peace, one with a Palestinian state alongside Israel and both with internationally recognized borders, has long been well known. A succession of Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been reluctant to take it. Israelis have doubted that they had a partner who could deliver them peace; aside from being plagued by disunity, the Palestinians have been unwilling to modify their demands that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their ancient homes inside Israel, which Israel will never accept. With a general election looming in Israel - polls suggest that the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to become the next Prime Minister - there is an opportunity to start talking again.

Israel's leaders need to recognize that if Hamas cannot be beaten militarily, then it must be engaged politically. That means accepting the idea of dealing with some kind of Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. A coalition between Hamas and Abbas is essential for the future of a Palestinian state and for moderating Hamas' extremism. Hamas, which 18 months ago chased Abbas' men from Gaza, says it will pair up with Abbas if he, along with the international community, recognizes that the Islamic militants legitimately came to power in the January 2006 elections. Israelis rightly view such claims with skepticism, and yet all Palestinians and their Arab backers reject the current situation, where the meager land set aside for a future state is chopped into two, Gaza and the West Bank, ruled by rivals.

A new Administration in Washington has a chance to be both supportive of Israel and honest with it. Over the past three years, many Israelis have told me that President George W. Bush was too good a friend of theirs. He gave Israelis all they wanted but didn't rein them in when they needed it. Israel eventually will have to pull back to the 1967 borders and dismantle many of the settlements on the Palestinian side, no matter how loudly its ultra-religious parties protest. Only then will the Palestinians and the other Arab states agree to a durable peace. It's as simple as that. But for 60 years, in the Holy Land, there has been a yawning gap between what was simple and what could be achieved.




With reporting by

Jamil Hamad / Ramallah,
Aaron J. Klein / Gaza Border and
Scott Macleod / Cairo

Time.com


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 09:31:48 am








                                                Israel accused over Gaza wounded 





 
BBC News
Jan. 8, 2009

Thursday's Israeli bombardment was the heaviest so far.

The Red Cross has accused Israel of failing to fulfil its obligation to help wounded civilians in Gaza.

ICRC staff found four weak and scared children beside their mothers' bodies in houses hit by shelling in Zeitoun.

The Israeli military has not yet responded to the accusation, but said it worked closely with aid groups so that civilians could get assistance.

Meanwhile the UN said it was suspending aid operations in Gaza because of the danger to staff from Israeli attacks.

"We have suspended our operations in Gaza until the Israeli authorities can guarantee our safety and security," said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations relief agency Unwra.

"Our installations have been hit, our workers have been killed in spite of the fact that the Israeli authorities have the co-ordinates of our facilities and that all our movements are co-ordinated with the Israeli army.

"It is with great regret that Unwra has been forced to make this difficult decision."

Earlier, Unwra said one person had been killed and two injured when a fork-lift truck on a UN aid mission came under Israeli tank fire at Gaza's Erez crossing.

  The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded - neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded


Unwra said the delivery had been co-ordinated with Israel, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The Israeli army has not commented on that claim but has said it was looking into it.

The aid agencies' concerns come amid fears the conflict with Gaza militants may spread, with rockets fired on Israel from Lebanon.

At least three rockets were fired into northern Israel, prompting Israel to reply with artillery.

The incident followed Israel's heaviest bombardment so far on Gaza in nearly two weeks of conflict, with 60 air strikes targeting Hamas facilities.

Israeli forces observed a three-hour pause in fighting to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

The first of what was promised to be a daily ceasefire - on Wednesday - allowed aid agencies into the territory for the first time in days.

Efforts have continued to broker a full ceasefire - a senior Israeli official is in Cairo to hear details of a plan put forward by Egypt and France.

A Hamas delegation is expected in the Egyptian capital at some stage for parallel "technical" talks, Egyptian diplomats said.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 09:33:56 am








'Access denied'



The International Committee of the Red Cross accused Israel of failing in its international obligations after its staff were met with "shocking" scenes.

 
One medical team found 12 bodies in a shelled house, and alongside them four very young children, too weak to stand, waiting by their dead mothers, the ICRC said.


Aid workers had been denied access to the site for days, it added.

"This is a shocking incident," Pierre Wettach, ICRC head for Israel and the Palestinian territories said in a statement.

"The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestinian Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

Correspondents say the criticism is unusually strong, coming from an agency considered to be neutral.

The Israeli army told Reuters news agency that any serious allegations would be properly investigated once a formal complaint was received.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International accused both sides of using civilians as human shields.

"Israeli soldiers have entered and taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families to stay in a ground floor room while they use the rest of their house as a military base and sniper position," it said in a statement.

While Palestinian families reported that in some cases Palestinian gunmen agreed to leave areas near civilian homes without firing at Israeli forces, the statement went on, "in other cases they have refused the residents' requests and only left after firing".






Nursing home



At least three Katyusha rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into the northern Israeli area of Nahariya early on Thursday.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 10:37:33 pm


              (http://d.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20090108/capt.71defd68feec42afaeba3b7c6dd38b61.palestinians_young_victims_ny501.jpg?x=400&y=260&q=85&sig=fGuS6E.GNHUIbP7GkQv2sw--)









                                                      UN: 257 Palestinian children killed in Gaza






Associated Press
Writer Ibrahim Barzak And
Karin Laub,
Associated Press Writer –
Thu Jan 8, 2009

– Tiny bodies lying side by side wrapped in white burial shrouds. The cherubic face of a dead preschooler sticking up from the rubble of her home. A man cradling a wounded boy in a chaotic emergency room after Israel shelled a U.N. school.

Children, who make up more than half of crowded Gaza's 1.4 million people, are the most defenseless victims of the war between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli army has unleashed unprecedented force in its campaign against Hamas militants, who have been taking cover among civilians.

A photo of 4-year-old Kaukab Al Dayah, just her bloodied head sticking out from the rubble of her home, covered many front pages in the Arab world Wednesday. "This is Israel," read the headline in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. The preschooler was killed early Tuesday when an F-16 attacked her family's four-story home in Gaza City. Four adults also died.

As many as 257 children have been killed and 1,080 wounded — about a third of the total casualties since Dec. 27, according to U.N. figures released Thursday.

Hardest on the children is the sense that nowhere is safe and adults can't protect them, said Iyad Sarraj, a psychologist hunkering down in his Gaza City apartment with his four stepchildren, ages 3-17. His 10-year-old, Adam, is terrified during bombing raids and has developed asthma attacks, Sarraj said.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas in response to its repeated rocket attacks on southern Israel, and is doing its utmost to avoid civilian deaths. However, foreign aid officials note that civilians can't escape blockaded Gaza and that bombing crowded areas inevitably leads to civilian casualties. The Israeli military has used tank and artillery shells, as well as large aerial bombs.

In the Shati refugee camp on the Mediterranean, 10 boys were playing football in an alley Thursday when a shell from an Israeli gunboat hit a nearby Hamas prison.

At the sound of the explosion, one of the older boys whistled, a signal to interrupt the game. Several players took cover with their backs pressed against a wall. After a minute or two, the game resumed.

Samih Hilal, 14, said he sneaked out of his grandfather's house against the orders of his worried father. The house was crowded with relatives who fled more dangerous areas, he said, and he couldn't stand being cooped up for so many hours.

"Do you think we are not afraid? Yes, we are. But we have nothing to do but play," Samih said.

Another boy, 13-year-old Yasser, waved toward the unmanned Israeli drones in a defiant gesture, instead of seeking cover during the shelling. "There is nothing we can do. Even if we run away here or there, their shells are faster than us," he said.

Indeed, all of Gaza has become dangerous ground.

Children have been killed in strikes on their houses, while riding in cars with their parents, while playing in the streets, walking to a grocery and even at U.N. shelters.

Sayed, Mohammed and Raida Abu Aisheh — ages 12, 8 and 7 — were at home with their parents when they were all killed in an Israeli airstrike before dawn Monday. The family had remained in the ground floor apartment of their three-story building, while the rest of the extended clan sought refuge in the basement from heavy bombardment of nearby Hamas installations.

Those in the basement survived. The children's uncle, Saber Abu Aisheh, 49, searched Thursday through the rubble, a heap of cement blocks, mattresses, scorched furniture and smashed TVs.

He said Israel gave no warning, unlike two years earlier when he received repeated calls from the Israeli military, including on his cell phone, that a nearby house was going to get hit and that he should evacuate.

"What's going on is not a war, it's a mass killing," said Abu Aisheh, still wearing the blood-splattered olive-colored sweater he wore the night of the airstrike.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 08, 2009, 10:43:21 pm








The Israeli military did not comment when asked why the Abu Aisheh house was targeted.

In the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, medics found four young children next to their dead mothers in a house, according to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross. "They were too weak to stand up on their own," the statement said.

The Red Cross did not say what happened to the children, but noted that the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach the neighborhood for four days. Israel said the delay was caused by fighting.

Medic Mohammed Azayzeh said he retrieved the bodies of a man and his two young sons from central Gaza on Wednesday. One of the boys, a 1-year-old, was cradled in his father's arms.

In the Jebaliya refugee camp, five sisters from the Balousha family, ages 4, 8, 11, 14 and 17, were buried together in white shrouds on Dec. 29. An Israeli airstrike on a mosque, presumably a Hamas target, had destroyed their adjacent house. Only their parents and a baby girl survived.

Israel accuses Hamas of cynically exploiting Gaza's civilians and using them as human shields. The military has released video footage showing militants firing mortars from the rooftops of homes and mosques.

"Israel wants to see no harm to the children of Gaza," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. "On the contrary, we would like to see their children and our children grow up without the fear of violence. Until now, Hamas has deliberately prevented that from becoming reality."

Rocket fire from Gaza has disrupted life in Israeli border communities, and with the latest intensified militant attacks, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are in rocket range. Schools are closed and fearful Israeli children rush into bomb shelters at the sound of air raid sirens.

In the ongoing chaos of Gaza, it's difficult to get exact casualty figures. Since Dec. 27, at least 750 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moawiya Hassanain.

Of those, 257 were children, according to the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, citing Health Ministry figures that he called credible and deeply disturbing.

"We are talking about urban war," said Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, the Jordan-based spokesman for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa. "The density of the population is so high, it's bound to hurt children ... This is a unique conflict, where there is nowhere to go."

Successive generations of Gaza children have grown up with violence, part of the accelerating conflict with Israel. In the late 1980s, many threw stones at Israeli soldiers in a revolt against occupation. In the second uprising, starting in 2000, some were recruited by Hamas as suicide bombers.

Sarraj, the psychologist, said he fears for this generation: Having experienced trauma and their parents' helplessness, they may be more vulnerable to recruitment by militants.

In his Gaza City apartment, Sarraj tries to reassure his own children.

His 14-year-old stepdaughter lost her school, the American International School, to a recent airstrike, and a girlfriend was killed in another attack. The family lives in the middle-class Rimal neighborhood and still has enough fuel to run a generator in the evenings, enabling the children to read.

Yet when the bombings start, he can't distract them. "They are scared," he said. "They run to find the safest place, in the hallway, away from the window."


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 09, 2009, 07:22:28 am









                                   Israel to continue offensive despite UN resolution







MATTI FRIEDMAN and
IBRAHIM BARZAK,
Associated Press Writers
January 8, 2009.
JERUSALEM

– Israeli jets and helicopters bombarded Gaza Friday and Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets,
as Israel's government said it will press forward with its offensive despite a U.N. resolution calling for
an immediate cease-fire.

One Israeli airstrike killed two Hamas militants and another unidentified man, while another flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza, killing at least seven people, including an infant, Hamas security officials said. By midday, 19 Palestinians had been killed.

In all, Israeli aircraft struck more than 30 targets before dawn, and constant explosions continued after first light. Friday's deaths in Gaza pushed the Palestinian death toll to more than 760 in the two-week-old conflict, with at least half of them civilians, according to Gaza health officials. Thirteen Israelis have died.

In Israel's first official response to the U.N. Security Council resolution, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said Israel "has never agreed to let an external body decide its right to protect the security of its citizens."

The military "will continue acting to protect Israeli citizens and will carry out the missions it was given," the statement read. The rockets fell in Israel on Friday "only prove that the U.N.'s decision is not practical and will not be kept in practice by the Palestinian murder organizations."

Israel launched its assault on Dec. 27 in an attempt to halt years of rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled territory.

Despite the devastating offensive, Hamas continued to bombard residents of southern Israel. Rockets hit Friday morning across southern Israel, including in and around Beersheba and Ashkelon, which — like other cities within rocket range of Gaza — have largely been paralyzed since the fighting began.

The U.N. Security Council resolution was approved Thursday night by a 14-0 vote, with the United States abstaining. The resolution "stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza."

Israel and Hamas were not parties to the council vote and it is now up to them to stop the fighting. But a Hamas spokesman said the Islamic militant group "is not interested" in the cease-fire because it was not consulted and the resolution did not meet its minimum demands.

Israel called up thousands of reserve troops earlier in the week, and they are now ready for action.

The Security Council action came hours after a U.N. agency suspended food deliveries to Gaza, and the Red Cross accused Israel of blocking medical assistance after forces fired on aid workers. It also followed concerns of a wider conflict after militants in Lebanon fired rockets into northern Israel early Thursday, though the border has been quiet since.

The United States abstained from the Security Council vote even though it helped hammer out the resolution's text along with Arab nations that have ties to Hamas and the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. "fully supports" the resolution but abstained "to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation" with Israel and Hamas, also aimed at achieving a cease-fire.

The resolution expresses "grave concern" at the escalating violence and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and emphasizes the need to open all border crossings and achieve a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It also calls on U.N. member states "to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable cease-fire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained reopening" of border crossings.

In addition, the resolution "condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians" and calls for "unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza."

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas envoy to Lebanon, told the al-Arabiya satellite channel that the group "is not interested in it because it does not meet the demands of the movement."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the U.N. failed to consider the interests of the Palestinian people. "This resolution doesn't mean that the war is over," he told the al-Jazeera satellite television network. "We call on the Palestinian fighters to mobilize and be ready to face the offensive, and we urge the Arab masses to carry on with their angry protests."

Following the resolution, Egypt was expected to take the lead in persuading Israel and Hamas to accept it. Israeli representatives returned home from talks in Cairo Thursday, and Hamas was due to send political leaders to the Egyptian capital on Saturday.

Israel's government says any cease-fire must guarantee an end to rocket fire and arms smuggling into Gaza. During a six-month cease-fire that ended with the current operation, Hamas is thought to have used tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border to smuggle in the medium-range rockets it is now using to hit deeper than ever inside Israel.

Hamas has said it won't accept any agreement that does not include the full opening Gaza's blockaded border crossings. Israel is unlikely to agree to that demand, as it would allow Hamas to strengthen its hold on the territory which it violently seized in June 2007.

With Israeli troops now in control of many of the open areas used by militants to launch rockets, gunman have continued shooting from inside populated neighborhoods.

The conflict has left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza increasingly desperate for food, water, fuel and medical assistance, and the situation was expected to worsen as humanitarian efforts fall victim to the fighting.

One of the dead Thursday was a Ukrainian woman, the first foreigner to die in the fighting, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain. He said the woman was married to a Palestinian doctor who trained in Ukraine and returned with her to Gaza. Her 2-year-old son was also killed in the tank shelling east of Gaza City, he said.

Details are emerging of other incidents in which civilians were killed. A U.N. agency said Israeli troops evacuated Palestinian civilians to a house in Gaza City on Jan. 4, then shelled the building 24 hours later, killing 30 people.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report was based on eyewitness testimony. It added details to an incident previously reported by The Associated Press and an Israeli human rights group.

The U.N. agency said 110 people were in the house. The 30 people reported killed is a far higher figure than in other accounts.

The Israeli military had no comment on the report Friday.

The West Bank saw its biggest protests so far Friday, as thousands took to the streets following prayers to express their anger at the Israeli offensive. In Ramallah, scuffles broke out between supporters of Hamas and the rival Fatah faction.

____

AP writers
Edith M. Lederer and
John Heilprin at
the United Nations contributed to this report.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 09, 2009, 09:37:47 am








                                     UN rights chief wants investigation of Gaza abuses
     





AP
Jan. 9, 2009
GENEVA

– The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called Friday for an independent war crimes investigation in Gaza after reports that Israeli forces shelled a house full of Palestinian civilians, killing 30 people.

Navi Pillay told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council that the harm to Israeli civilians caused by Hamas rockets was unacceptable, but did not excuse any abuses carried out by Israeli forces in response.

Pillay went further in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., saying an incident in Gaza City this week "appears to have all the elements of war crimes."

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Israeli troops evacuated Palestinian civilians to a house in the Zeitoun neighborhood on Jan. 4, then shelled the building 24 hours later.

The U.N. agency said 110 people were in the house, according to testimony from four witnesses.

On Thursday, the international Red Cross said the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach wounded people in the neighborhood for four days. Israel said the delay was caused by fighting in the area.

Pillay told the Geneva-based rights council that all parties to the conflict had a duty to care for the wounded and avoid targeting health workers, hospitals and ambulances.

Violations of international humanitarian law may amount to war crimes for which individuals should be held accountable, she said.

The 47-member council, which is dominated by Arab and African countries, is debating a resolution condemning Israel for its actions in Gaza.

The motion could be delayed until Monday.


Title: Re: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES
Post by: Bianca on January 10, 2009, 08:24:52 am








                                      Israel tells Gazans to brace for war escalation
     





Ibrahim Barzak And
Josef Federman,
Associated Press Writers
Jan. 10, 2009
GAZA CITY,
Gaza Strip

– Israeli forces pounded dozens of targets in Gaza Saturday and planes dropped leaflets warning residents of an escalation in attacks, as southern Israel came under more Palestinian rocket fire.

Egypt hosted talks aimed at ending the violence.

Flames and smoke rose over Gaza City amid heavy fighting. The Israeli threat to launch a "new phase" in its two-week-old offensive that has already killed more than 800 Palestinians came in defiance of international calls for a cease-fire.

"The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) will escalate the operation in the Gaza Strip," the leaflets said in Arabic. "The IDF is not working against the people of Gaza but against Hamas and the terrorists only. Stay safe by following our orders."

The leaflets urged Gaza residents not to help Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, and to stay away from its members.

The Israeli military said more than 15 militants were killed in overnight fighting. It said aircraft attacked more than 40 targets including 10 rocket-launching sites, weapons-storage facilities, smuggling tunnels, an anti-aircraft missile launcher and gunmen.

In the day's bloodiest incident, an Israeli tank shell killed nine people in a garden outside a home in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya. Separately, a woman was killed by an airstrike in the southern town of Rafah.

Israel has come under international criticism for the rising number of civilian casualties. Paramedics said the nine people killed in the garden were from the same clan and included two children and two women.

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

The Israeli army had no immediate comment, but has repeatedly accused Hamas of using residential areas for cover. Earlier this week, an Israeli attack outside a U.N. school killed nearly 40 people. Both Israel and Palestinian witnesses said militants carried out an attack from the area moments earlier.

Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. A week later, ground troops moved in.

Palestinian medical officials say more than 800 Palestinians have been killed, roughly half of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis have been killed — four of them by militant rockets, the rest in battle in Gaza. Five soldiers were lightly wounded in Saturday's fighting.

Israel and Hamas ignored a U.N. resolution passed Thursday calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire that would lead to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Israel has dismissed the Security Council resolution as impractical, while Hamas, whose government in Gaza is not recognized internationally, is angry it was not consulted in the diplomatic efforts.