BBC News & Reuters – 2009-01-03 21:36:55
Israeli Troops Enter Gaza Strip
BBC World News
(January 4, 2009) — Israel has sent ground forces into the Gaza Strip after a week of air strikes to try to halt rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.
Its troops were reported to be engaged in heavy clashes with Hamas fighters in northern Gaza. Both sides have reported casualties in the fighting.
The UN secretary general called for an immediate halt to operations. But an emergency Security Council meeting failed to agree a united approach to the Gaza conflict.
After talks lasting more than three hours, the current president of the council, France’s Jean-Maurice Ripert, said there was a “general convergence” among some members, but he would not elaborate.
The British ambassador to the UN, Sir John Sawers, said members had got close to an agreement. He added it was disappointing there could not be a firm statement from the UN as the situation on the ground escalates.
The session was convened a few hours after Israeli entered Gaza. Witnesses say Israeli military convoys supported by attack helicopters crossed into northern Gaza at four separate points after nightfall on Saturday.
Advancing Israeli tanks were reported to be in battles around Gaza City and the northern towns of Beit Lahiya and Jabaliya, the Afp news agency reported. Hamas fighters replied with mortars and rockets, witnesses said.
The Israeli army said that 30 of its soldiers had been wounded in the ground offensive, two of them seriously, Reuters reported. Palestinian medical officials said eight Gazans had been killed by Israeli troops, five of them gunmen. There has been no independent confirmation of the claims.
France has strongly criticised the Israeli land campaign. The British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said the escalation of the conflict would cause alarm and dismay.
The US said it had told Israel’s government that military action must be “mindful of the potential consequences to civilians.” The State Department also said Washington is “deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation” in Gaza, but said in a statement that Hamas holds the people of Gaza hostage.
Israeli warplanes and naval vessels have carried out more than 800 strikes on the Gaza Strip since the offensive started eight days ago, including 40 on Saturday.
The UN has warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis, and believes 25% of more than 400 Palestinians killed by Israel so far were civilians. Israel says about 80% of those killed were Hamas militants. Four Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said the objective of the ground operation was “to destroy the Hamas terror infrastructure in the area of operations. We are going to take some of the launch areas used by Hamas,” Maj Avital Leibovitch told reporters. Israeli officials have described the offensive as a “limited” operation.
The move into Gaza had been preceded by some of the heaviest Israeli air and artillery attacks on the territory in more than a week of bombardment. Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the ground campaign against Hamas “will not be easy or short, but we are determined”.
“Our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza, and to bring about a significant change in the situation in the southern part of Israel,” he told a news conference. “We have carefully weighed all our operations. We are not war-hungry, but we shall not allow a situation in which our towns, villages and civilians are constantly targeted by Hamas.”
Mr Barak also said Israel would “keep a sensitive eye” on its northern border with Lebanon, where it fought a short but bloody war with the Shia Hezbollah movement in 2006. “We hope the situation will remain calm. Nevertheless, we are ready and alert to face any unwanted development in that area,” he added.
The BBC’s Paul Wood in Jerusalem says this is probably just the first wave of the assault, since there are said to be some 10,000 Israeli troops and hundreds of tanks massed on the border with Gaza. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office has also announced the government has ordered the urgent call-up of “tens of thousands” of extra military reservists.
Just before the ground offensive began, Hamas issued a statement promising that Palestinian children would be picking over the ruins of Israeli tanks and the body parts of Israeli soldiers.
The militant group’s exiled political leader, Khaled Meshaal, earlier warned Israel against a ground offensive, saying that a “black destiny” awaited Israeli forces if the entered Gaza. “We will not break, we will not surrender or give in to your conditions,” he said in a speech from the Syrian capital, Damascus.
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the offensive as “a vicious aggression”. Our correspondent says this promises to be a very bloody encounter.
Earlier on Saturday, at least 13 people were killed in one Israeli raid when a missile struck a crowded mosque in Beit Lahiya, Palestinian medics said.
Witnesses said more than 200 people had been inside the Ibrahim al-Maqadna mosque for evening prayers when it was struck. Correspondents say Israel has accused Hamas of using mosques to hide weapons and ammunition, but this is the first time a mosque has been hit at prayer time.
Militants in Gaza fired more rockets into southern Israel on Saturday, one of which hit the port of Ashdod, injuring two people.
Around the world, demonstrations were held against Israel’s military operations. The biggest was in Paris, drawing more than 20,000 people. About 10,000 people protested in London.
In Israel itself, tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs gathered in the town of Sakhnin to protest against their government’s actions.
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Civilians Take Brunt of 7th Day of Attacks On Gaza
Nidal al-Mughrabi / Information ClearingHouse
(January 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. Four Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza, which strike southern cities at random.
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 people 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.”
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 off 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.”
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 humus 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 AM.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.