Death toll passes 1,000, over a third are children
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- Outrage as Israel attacks schools, ambulances (FCN, 01-07-2009)
(FinalCall.com) – Israel seized control of high-rise buildings and attacked houses, mosques and smuggling tunnels as it pressed its offensive against the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers on Jan. 5, while the U.S. joined a stream of countries pushing for a cease-fire.
At least 14 Palestinian children were killed the same day. By Jan. 14, the known Palestinian death toll from the onslaught surpassed 1,000–many of them women and children, the UN and Palestinian officials said. Gaza’s biggest hospital said it was overwhelmed. Israel says ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians have died since the operation began.
In one of the first major gun battles of the ground campaign, Israeli troops and Hamas militants clashed at close quarters on the outskirts of the crowded Gaza City neighborhood of Shajaiyeh, Israeli defense officials said.
From Gaza, Hamas continued to pummel southern Israel with more than two dozen rockets, including one that struck an empty kindergarten in the city of Ashdod, 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.
After a week of airstrikes beginning Dec. 27, Israeli ground troops invaded Gaza late Jan. 3. They quickly seized a main highway in Gaza, slicing the territory in half, and two days later, Israeli forces pounded houses–one of them belonging to a leading Hamas member who was not there at the time–a pair of mosques and smuggling tunnels.
Israel has attacked several mosques during the campaign, saying they were used to store weapons.
The Israeli army said dozens of militants have been killed or wounded, but Hamas had not released casualty figures. At Final Call presstime, Palestinian health official said 80 people–including 70 civilians–had died since the ground invasion began.
Israel has three main demands: an end to Palestinian attacks, international supervision of any truce and a halt to Hamas rearming. Hamas–which has controlled Gaza since 2007–demands a cessation of Israeli attacks and the opening of vital Gaza-Israel cargo crossings.
The U.S. was pressing for a cease-fire that would include a halt to rocket attacks and an arrangement for reopening crossing points on the border with Israel, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has spoken by phone with 17 foreign leaders – in Europe as well as the Middle East – in pursuit of a cease-fire agreement, Mr. McCormack said.
President George W. Bush, however, emphasized “Israel’s desire to protect itself.”
“The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas,” he said.
In Syria, a senior Hamas official rejected the U.S. proposal. The deputy head of Hamas’ politburo in Syria, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told The Associated Press 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 before the land invasion began, came to Israel. While blaming Hamas for causing Palestinian suffering with rocket fire that led to the Israeli offensive, Mr. Sarkozy had condemned Israel’s use of ground troops.
A European Union delegation met with 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 recently took over the EU’s presidency. Rocket attacks on Israel also must stop, he told reporters.
Israel’s operation angered many across the Arab world and has drawn criticism from countries like Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, which have ties with Israel and have been involved in Mideast peacemaking.
The Palestinian foreign minister, Riad Malki, who works within the rival Fatah administration from the West Bank, asked the UN Security Council to quickly adopt a resolution calling for an immediate end to Israeli attacks in Gaza and a permanent cease-fire including border monitors and an international force to protect civilians.
Black smoke from tank shells and wind-swept dust billowed in the air over Gaza City, home to 400,000 people, where the streets were almost empty. Two children crossing a street near a Hamas security compound didn’t bother to look right and left for cars but gazed up at the sky, apparently looking for attack aircraft.
Unmanned Israeli planes and Apache helicopters circled overhead.
Hamas leaders went into hiding before the Israeli offensive began and only on rare occasions have addressed the Gaza residents in broadcasts from their hideouts.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar exhorted Palestinians to fight the Israeli forces and target Israeli civilians. “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,” Mr. Zahar said in a grainy video broadcast on Hamas TV.
The violence has deepened the suffering in impoverished Gaza, home to 1.4 million people. Israel’s ground operation is the second phase in an offensive that began as a weeklong aerial onslaught aimed at halting Hamas rocket fire that now threatens major cities and one-eighth of Israel’s population of 7 million people.
More and more activists and analysts were using the word “genocide” to describe what has been happening in the Gaza Strip since Israel stepped up the air strikes.
“All of this has been used as a pretext by Israel to launch genocidal attacks, which have been denounced by people around the world,” the National Assembly to End the Iraq & Afghanistan Wars & Occupation noted in a statement.
The Muslim Alliance in North America said: “The destruction of electrical power plants, boats used for fishing; destroying schools and infrastructure, if this collective punishment continues it will mean the genocide of Palestinians.”
An international legal definition of the crime of genocide is spelled out in Articles Two and Three of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide state that there must be two elements for a crime to be called genocide; the mental element: the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group; and the physical element, which comprises five acts.
“Looks like Israel means to destroy a segment of the Palestinian population,” human rights attorney Roger Wareham told The Final Call.
“What else can we call it, when an area the size of Queens where 1.5 million people live; and it is being constantly shelled by tanks and the Israeli Navy,” said Sara Flounders, co-founder of the International Action Center.
UN officials continued to express concerns over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, saying “this is a very bloody operation by anybody’s standards.”
The 15-member UN Security Council on Jan. 3 was unable to reach a consensus on a resolution, put forth by Libya calling for an immediate ceasefire.
“I believe the UN, in particular the Security Council, has a central role to play in bringing a speedy end to the conflict. I regret the Security Council has not been able to reach a consensus,” stated UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Jan. 4.
The U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, Alejandro Wolff told reporters that his government blocked approval of the Security Council call for a ceasefire because there is no “prospect of Hamas abiding by it.”
Sudanese Ambassador Dr. Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem told reporters after the meeting: “Even a presidential statement is too much for Washington. All they want is for someone from the Security Council to tell the press the views of the council. That’s the lowest form of council action, which is no action at all.”
Observers say the White House is pleased with the blow struck against Hamas, which has not been recognized by the Bush administration as the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people.
In Jan. 2006, Hamas won the general legislative elections, defeating the Fatah Party of Palestinian Authority Pres. Mahmoud Abbas.
Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies in a position paper said: “The U.S. is complicit in the Israeli violations–directly or indirectly.”
“The timing of the air-strikes has far more to do with U.S. and Israeli politics then with protecting Israeli citizens,” stated Ms. Bennis, author of the book “Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.”
B’TSELEM, an Israeli information center for human rights in the Occupied Territories wrotes that since the June 2007 Hamas take-over in the Gaza Strip, Israel changed the movement arrangement for Palestinians at the five Gaza border-crossing points under its control. B’TSELEM also reports that Israel has maintained sole control of Gaza airspace and the waters surrounding Gaza since their pull-out in 2005.
“Control of airspace enables Israel to monitor actions on the ground; and allows them to interfere with television and radio broadcasts,” B’TSELEM stated.
Israel has repeatedly claimed that Hamas is responsible for breaking the six-month truce that had been brokered by Egypt, which ended Dec. 19. “Israel broke the truce when it began air strikes in June,” Ms. Bennis told The Final Call.
“We believe that it is going to take a grassroots movement around the world to stop the violence in Gaza,” Ms. Flounders of the International Action Center, sponsors of a massive rally held in New York City. “There were 25,000 to 30,000 people participating in our rally on Jan. 3,” Ms. Flounders told The Final Call.
“We call upon all the people, the ultimate power in every nation when organized and energized, to take to the streets where they live and demand that their governments do all in their power to stop the war of aggression against the Palestinian people,” the International Action Center urged in a statement.
Europeans participated in a “European Day of Action” on Jan. 3, with rallies in England, Scotland & Wales, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Norway. There were demonstrations in South Africa, Yemen, and Cairo. And in Asia, people rallied in India and Malaysia, while in the Middle East rallies were held in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Galilee and Tel Aviv. In South America rallies were held in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Columbia. Demonstrations were also held in major U.S. cities.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)