International Herald Tribune & Atul Aneja / The Hindu & Hon. Dennis Kucinich – 2009-01-16 00:26:23
UN Outraged after Israel Shells its Aid Compound
Taghreed El-Khodary and Isabel Kershner / International Herald Tribune
GAZA (January 15, 2009) — Israeli forces shelled areas deep inside Gaza City on Thursday, hitting the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and wounding at least three people among the hundreds taking shelter in the compound, UN officials and witnesses said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel expressed regret for the strike but said that Israeli forces were fired on by Hamas militants from just outside the UN compound and that the militants then ran inside to take cover, according to Olmert’s spokesman, Mark Regev.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, said that Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Israel had told him the strike on the UN compound was a “grave mistake.” Ban, who was in Israel on Thursday to press for a cease-fire, said that he expressed “strong protest and outrage” to Israel. Relations between Israel and the UN offices in Palestinian territory, long strained, have worsened during the Israeli campaign.
On the 20th day of fighting, Israeli ground forces pushed deeper into Gaza City and intensified shelling in both outlying neighborhoods and central districts, sending thousands of panicked residents fleeing from their homes, witnesses said. Al-Shurouq Tower, a high-rise media center, was hit by shells, witnesses said. At least two television cameramen were hospitalized.
In what appeared to be a breakthrough for the Israeli military, Israeli and Palestinian media reported that Israel had killed a senior Hamas official in the bombing of his home.
Two days ago, Israeli officials said, despite heavy air and ground assaults, Israel had yet to cripple the military wing of Hamas or halt its rocket fire into Israel.
The slain official, Said Siam, was the interior minister in Hamas-run Gaza, and was in charge of security. Islamic Jihad radio said Siam’s brother and son had also been killed. In addition, the strike killed four members of a family next door, Gaza hospital officials said.
The intensified Israeli campaign came as cease-fire talks in Egypt appeared to be moving forward. A senior Israeli defense official, Amos Gilad, returned from Cairo after a day of talks with Egyptian officials. He was due to report to the Israeli leadership later Thursday. “We are trying to find a durable solution and hopefully that durable solution seems closer than ever before,” Regev said.
Within two hours on Thursday morning, militants in Gaza fired 15 rockets and mortars against Israel, the Israeli military said, a marked increase in fire compared with Wednesday when there were 16 launches during the entire day.
Later Thursday, the military reported that 25 rockets and mortars had been fired. One struck the Israeli city of Beersheba, directly hitting a car and wounding six people, the Israeli military said. Among them was a 7-year-old boy, whose wounds were serious.
The death toll for Palestinians rose to at least 1,076, Reuters reported, which quoted the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza. At least 13 Israelis have been killed.
Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which is charged with helping Palestinian refugees, said that the Israelis had been provided with the GPS coordinates of all UN facilities in Gaza. He said that in the strike Thursday on the UN compound two buildings had been set ablaze and that there were five fully laden fuel vehicles at the site.
He rejected the Israeli claim that militants had fired from in or near the compound as “entirely baseless.”
“With every false allegation, the credibility of those accusing us is incrementally diminished,” he said.
He said that Israel had used three shells of white phosphorous at the compound, according to people at the site, citing the fact that fires caused by the shells had burned all day as evidence that the chemical was used.
White phosphorous creates smoke on a battlefield and can burn like a kind of napalm. There was no immediate response from Israel.
The strike on the UN compound resembled an earlier incident in Israel’s campaign against Hamas, when Israeli mortar shells landed outside a UN school compound in Jabaliya, in northern Gaza, killing at least 40 Palestinians, according to UN and hospital officials.
In that attack, the Israeli military said that it was responding to mortars fired by Hamas militants from a yard next to the school compound, and that one of the shells that it fired back fell off the mark.
The attacks have worsened decades of tensions between Israel and the United Nations. Israel views some branches of the UN as hostile and unfair, particularly the Relief and Works Agency, with its focus on helping Palestinians.
Regev, Olmert’s spokesman, played down the tensions, saying that Israel “fully supports the United Nations’ humanitarian mission.”
But Yigal Palmor, a Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that a large number of the local workers for the UN refugee agency “one way or another are affiliated with Hamas,” which presents problems at a time of confrontation.
The Israeli military gave only limited information about its latest ground operations in Gaza City on Thursday, but a spokesman said that “fierce fighting” was under way “relatively deep inside Gaza.”
Overnight, the military said, Israeli planes struck about 70 targets, including a mosque in the southern town of Rafah that it said was used to stockpile rockets, and several squads of gunmen.
Palestinians arrived with wounded relatives at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Thursday, some barefoot and in nightgowns. They told of intense Israeli shelling in several neighborhoods, including the Sabra and Tufah districts. The two television cameramen arrived for treatment after the tower in central Gaza housing the media offices was hit. They had been filming from a window balcony when they were wounded, they said.
Residents of the Tel el-Hawa district in southwestern Gaza City said that Israeli shelling and shooting had gone on all night and that the Quds Hospital was under fire.
Amid rising concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the aid group CARE said that Israeli bombs were falling around its warehouses and distribution sites in Gaza, forcing it to cancel the dissemination of food and medical supplies.
The group said in a statement that it had been planning to give emergency medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, and get baby food and blankets to newborns in shelters.
Martha Myers, CARE’s director for the West Bank and Gaza, said that on Wednesday bombs fell near a care warehouse and “our staff had to drop and run.”
“This is not humanitarian access,” she said in the CARE statement.
Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem. Ethan Bronner and Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Jerusalem; Souad Mekhennet contributed from Frankfurt; Michael Slackman from Cairo; Alan Cowell from London; and Graham Bowley from New York.
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Food, Medicine Destroyed as Israeli Forces Attack Gaza UN Compound
Atul Aneja / The Hindu
DUBAI (January 16, 2009) — Israeli forces attacked a United Nations compound in Gaza with phosphorus explosives despite the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the neighbourhood.
A hospital was also hit in a locality on the outskirts of Gaza City. “They are phosphorus fires so they are extremely difficult to put out because if you put water on it, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning,” observed John Ging, head of UN relief operations in Gaza.
“This is going to burn down the entire warehouse … thousands and thousands of tonnes of food, medical supplies and other emergency assistance are there.” At least three phosphorus bombs struck the UN compound.
Mr. Ban told reporters in Tel Aviv that he was outraged by the strike, which appeared to signal Israel’s complete disregard for the world body. “I have conveyed my strong protest and outrage and demanded a full explanation from the Defence Minister and Foreign Minister [of Israel],” he said.
Despite intensifying the bombardment, Israeli troops have not moved into the heart of Gaza City so far. Analysts say in case the Israeli infantry advances inside the city, it is likely to result in high-casualty urban warfare with the Palestinian Hamas fighters.
Israeli forces are reported to be pounding Gaza’s Rafah border with Egypt with new high-penetration bombs that have been specially developed to destroy tunnels and underground complexes.
In a recent interview with Al Arabiya satellite channel, Musa Abu Marzuq, a top leader of Hamas, said Gaza was battleground for new type of weapons. “White phosphorus [and] vacuum…bombs have been dropped. For the first time, a various range of tanks, artillery, and aircraft are being tested. I believe that these experiments are being carried out on the population of the Gaza Strip at the moment.”
Amid the military pressure, negotiations for a ceasefire e gathered some momentum in Egypt. Israeli negotiator Amos Gilad held talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman after Hamas representatives had briefed the Egyptians of their stand. Hamas negotiators in Egypt also reiterated at a press conference their willingness to enter into a ceasefire.
However, Salah el-Bardaweel said on Wednesday that Hamas had demanded the lifting of the siege, opening of border crossing points and compensation for the Palestinian people. Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that the Jawaharlal Nehru Library donated by the Government of India, during a visit to Gaza by the former External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, was also destroyed when the Azhar University, where it was located, came under attack recently.
At least 1,066 Palestinians, including 311 children and 97 women have been killed as guns continued to boom on the twentieth day of the Israeli offensive.
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Kucinich on the Destruction of the UN Headquarters in Gaza
Hon Dennis Kucinich / US Congress
(January 15, 2009) — Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today made the following statement about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza on the House Floor:
“The attack on the United Nations headquarters in Gaza is further proof that a post-legal era in world affairs has taken shape; where law and moral principles are irrelevant, where might makes right, where retribution and vengeance, even against innocent children, fails to shake us from moral lethargy or political paralysis.
“Collective punishment, disproportionate use of force, using U.S. planes, helicopters and munitions to attack a wounded, starved and thirsty civilian population of mostly children trapped in a box called Gaza has become acceptable, perhaps because we have already accepted the deaths of over one million innocent civilians in Iraq in a war based on lies.
“There is a way out. We must ask those who were given our armaments for defense to stop the aggression, end the blockade, end the occupation, and reconnect with the high sentiments that rallied their own suffering, wounded people to nationhood generations ago. When we recognize the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, when we come to grips with the reality of suffering on both sides, we may yet find a way to save ourselves.
Dennis Kucinich is a congressman from Ohio and a 2008 presidential primary candidate. http://kucinich.us/ The best way to reach congressman Kucinich is through the information on his congressional website.