Al Jazeera & Naser Najjar and Ruby Russell / USA TODAY – 2012-11-19 01:11:19
Civilian Death Toll Mounts in Gaza
Twelve Palestinians from one family killed in Israeli rocket attack in single biggest loss of life since crisis began
(November 19, 2012) — An Israeli air attack has killed 12 members of one family in the Gaza Strip, just hours after Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, said his country was ready to “significantly expand” its operation against Palestinian fighters in the territory.
Barack Obama, the US president, said that while Israel had a right to defend itself, it would be “preferable” to avoid an Israeli ground invasion.
Sunday’s 30 deaths in Gaza, including the deaths of seven civilians on Monday, have brought the total number of Palestinians killed to 82 since the Israeli air strikes began targeting the Hamas-ruled territory six days ago.
On their part, fighters in Gaza continued to fire rockets into Israel. Two of them, aimed at the commercial hub of Tel Aviv, were shot down by Israel’s anti-missile system, police said.
“The operation in the Gaza Strip is continuing, and we are preparing to expand it,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “We are extracting a heavy price from Hamas and the terror organisations.”
Meanwhile, thousands of Israeli troops backed by armour massed along the Gaza border, fuelling fears that Israel is poised to expand its aerial bombing campaign into a ground operation.
Ashraf al-Kidra, spokesperson of the health ministry in Gaza, said on Sunday that civilians accounted for half of the Palestinian death toll. More than 750 other Palestinians have been wounded.
In the single deadliest attack of the Israeli operation so far, 12 civilians were killed in Sunday’s air attack on a four-storey house in northern Gaza City, health officials said.
Two or three missiles fired by F-16 fighter jets reduced the house in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood to rubble, witnesses said. Five women, including one 80-year-old, and four small children were among the dead, Kidra said.
The Israeli military said the target was a top rocket mastermind of the Islamic Jihad group. The claim could not be verified, and Kidra said the two men killed in the attack were also civilians.
Earlier, medical sources in Gaza said at least three children – including an 18-month-old infant – and two women were killed in a air raid east of Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.
An air raid before dawn in Gaza City targeted a building housing the offices of local Arab media, wounding several journalists from al-Quds television.
“At least six journalists were wounded, with minor and moderate injuries, when Israeli warplanes hit the Al-Quds TV office in the Showa and Housari building in the Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City,” Ashraf al-Qudra, health ministry spokesman, told AFP news agency. He said one journalist lost his leg.
Witnesses reported extensive damage to the building, and said journalists had evacuated after an initial strike, which was followed by at least two more on the site.
A second media centre was targeted later on Sunday morning. Sky News, Al-Arabiya and the official Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV channel have offices in the building. Russian television station RT said its office was destroyed, adding that none of its staff were injured.
The Israeli military said it had targeted “two Hamas operational communication sites” and had only targeted communication devices located on the roof to “minimise the damage to non-involved persons”.
Huge plumes of smoke were billowing in the sky after a security building in Gaza City was hit. Two other attacks on houses in the Jabalya refugee camp killed one child and wounded 12 other people, medical officials said.
Hamas remained defiant, however, with Abu Ubaida, its military spokesperson, insisting that despite Israel’s blows the group “is still strong enough to destroy the enemy. This round of confrontation will not be the last against the Zionist enemy and it is only the beginning,” he said on TV.
Gaza has been under attack since Wednesday, when Israel launched a military offensive with the declared goal of deterring fighters in the Palestinian enclave from launching rockets into its territory.
During this period, more than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, killing three people and injuring dozens.
Al Jazeera‘s Nadim Baba, reporting from Gaza City, said some people who live near the northern and eastern borders with Israel had been leaving their homes to seek shelter with relatives elsewhere.
In Gaza City, streets were relatively quiet on Sunday.
“People still do think that the Israeli military might actually launch a ground incursion,” he said.
“They are of course also worried that they might be near targets of the Israeli military, and they might also be near to a place from where rockets are being launched.”
Our correspondent witnessed a rocket being launched from a waste ground in the city. “Then I saw civilians running away from that area,” he said.
Rocket fire from Gaza into Israel subsided during the night but resumed in the morning with at least 50 rockets fired, the Israeli army said.
At least 17 of them were intercepted by the so-called Iron Dome, Israel’s a missile-defence system meant to shoot down rockets and artillery shells fired at populated areas.
Two people were lightly injured by a rocket hitting a house in the coastal city of Ashkelon, the Magen David Adom emergency services said.
The military said Israeli aircraft had targeted dozens of underground rocket launchers overnight, “causing severe damage to the rocket launching capabilities of Hamas and other terror organisations”. It also confirmed that its navy had shelled Gaza, hitting targets on the northern Gaza shore line.
Netanyahu told the Sunday cabinet meeting that he was holding talks with world leaders, “and we appreciate their understanding of Israel’s right to self-defence”.
Al Jazeera‘s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Sderot in southern Israel, said the Israeli leader had a lot of support for a ground operation, especially in the southern parts of the country.
However, a ground invasion would cost Israel much international sympathy and support, according to William Hague, UK foreign secretary.
Hague told Sky News television it was much more difficult to limit civilian casualties in a ground assault and it would threaten to prolong the conflict.
“A ground invasion is much more difficult for the international community to sympathise with or support — including the United Kingdom,” he said.
Hague said Britain would like to see an agreed ceasefire, with an end to the rocket attacks being an essential component of any peace deal.
Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesperson, has told Al Jazeera that 90 percent of the terms of a ceasefire currently being discussed in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, have been agreed upon.
Defiant Gazans Hunker Down, Bury Dead
Residents of Gaza City bury victims of repeated Israeli airstrikes and express defiance.
Naser Najjar and Ruby Russell / USA TODAY
GAZA CITY (November 18, 2012 ) — At the al Magazi refugee camp in Gaza, a convoy of four ambulances pulled in with the bodies of nine men, all Hamas members killed in Israeli airstrikes. Residents of the camp greeted the convoy with the green flags of Hamas and a mixture of pride and sorrow for the dead. They chanted, “God is great, death to Israel.”
The body of Osama Abd Al Jawad, 26, a Hamas fighter with a wife and infant daughter, was draped with the green flag and taken to the local mosque. “Being apart from him is hard but he will remain alive in my heart,” said his father Mohammed Abd Al Jawad.
In this refugee camp, known for its support of Hamas, locals expressed defiance. “As long as the Israelis keep on occupying our land we must keep on targeting their lands, even harder,” said Osama’s brother, Amjad.
The imam of the mosque reminded locals of their need to comfort and take care of one another. “Those young men left everything behind them for the sake of Allah and the sake of their cause,” he said. “Their families are our responsibilities now and it’s a duty for each one of you to ask if they need something from time to time.”
The streets in Gaza City, among the most densely populated in the world, were filled Sunday afternoon with thousands of men and children attending the funerals of the recently killed.
Women looked on from windows and balconies above the streets. There was a building in every district that had been hit by Israeli missiles, among the hundreds of attacks aimed at Hamas rocket facilities and infrastructure.
Hamas has spent the past four years rebuilding missile batteries destroyed by Israel in a 2008 war, also sparked by Hamas rocket bombardments of Israeli towns and villages.
In that war, many of the rockets were launched in the streets by Hamas militants who would haul a launcher from a truck, fire off a projectile, and then speed away for cover in a garage or alleyway. This time Hamas has hidden launchers in underground bunkers connected to tunnels, and appear to have an organized battle plan for which ones to fire, according to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Israel had been watching the developments and planning a response accordingly. The IDF and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have developed a list of targets based on “precise intelligence” gathered through a network of informers, aerial surveillance and other high-tech measures.
Buildings in every Gaza City neighborhood show the signs of Israeli missile strikes, with one or two buildings destroyed in every district. Hamas flags that have appeared everywhere in the last week are among the few accents of bright color on gray, dust covered buildings.
No one locally speaks out against Hamas; the offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood is known to deal harshly with critics.
After Gazans gave Hamas a slight majority in legislative elections in 2006 over Fatah, the Palestinian faction that runs the West Bank, Hamas militants orchestrated an ouster of Fatah leaders in Gaza, murdering several and forcing others to flee to the West Bank. Human Rights Watch accused Hamas of torturing opponents and throwing some off buildings as a form of execution.
On Sunday, most Gazans hunkered down at home. Stores remained shut, with the exception of a few pharmacies, grocery stores and bakeries, serving those who dared to venture out to stock up on supplies.
Locals hoped that a truce could be negotiated more quickly than four years ago, when a three-week offensive by Israel called Operation Cast Lead killed more than 1,000 Gazans.
At another funeral nearby, the mother of farmers Mohammed and Ahmed Abu Jalal, mourned their loss. They were killed along with their nephew, Ziyad, 20 while sitting in their front yard when an Israeli shell landed.
“People can’t handle burying one son in their lifetime and now I have to bury two in one day, oh God, merciful God,” she cried. Ahmed’s wife worried how they would survive: Ahmed left behind seven children and Mohammed six.
“Life was hard on us in the first place, we barely managed to support ourselves when he was around,” she said. “What shall happen to us now and who will take care of these children?”
Among those killed by missile strikes were sister and brother Jumana and Tamer Abu Sefan, aged one and three years. The children had been asleep in the single room of the Abu Sefan’s home in Jabalia, near Hamdona Square, when the roof collapsed and crushed them.
Tamer was killed instantly. His sister Jumana died hours later at Al Shifa hospital.
“I kept on praying that she would live,” said their mother, Huda Abu Sefan. “Those hours were the longest of my life. But when the sun rose, my daughter’s life ended.”
Russell reported from Berlin
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