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Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES

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Author Topic: Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza In Escalation - UPDATES  (Read 211 times)
Bianca
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« 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.
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« Reply #1 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."
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« Reply #2 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.
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« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2009, 02:14:42 pm »









                                   Civilians take brunt of 7th day of Gaza offensive










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."
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« Reply #4 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."
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« Reply #5 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)
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« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2009, 02:21:37 pm »



                                                     
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« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2009, 02:27:22 pm »



                                                           
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« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2009, 02:30:21 pm »



                                                           
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« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2009, 02:33:33 pm »



                                                                 
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« Reply #10 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.
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« Reply #11 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.
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« Reply #12 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."
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« Reply #13 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.
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« Reply #14 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."
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