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Gaza medics describe horror of strike which killed 70
Growing evidence emerged today of the bloodiest single incident of the Gaza conflict when around 70 corpses were found by a Palestinian paramedic near a bombed-out house.


By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 9:25AM GMT 08 Jan 2009
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/4162193/Gaza-medics-describe-horror-of-strike-which-killed-70.html

Mohammed Shaheen, a volunteer with Palestinian Red Crescent, was in the first convoy of ambulances to reach the site of the blast in Zeitoun since it was first occupied then shelled by the Israeli army

His testimony confirmed accounts, first reported in The Telegraph, from survivors of the extended al Samouni clan who said they feared between 60 and 70 family members had been killed.

"Inside the Samouni house I saw about ten bodies and outside another sixty,'' Mr Shaheen said.

"I was not able to count them accurately because there was not much time and we were looking for wounded people.

"We found fifteen people still alive but injured so we took them in the ambulances.

"I could see an Israeli army bulldozer knocking down houses nearby but we ran out of time and the Israeli soldiers started shooting at us.

"We had to leave about eight injured people behind because we could not get to them and it was no longer safe for us to stay.'' Mr Shaheen was in a convoy led by a jeep from the International Committee of the Red Cross that made its way down war-damaged tracks past demolished houses to the town of Zeitoun.

Concerns had been growing that Zeitoun had witnessed massive civilian casualties after surviving members of the Samouni clan reached Gaza City three days ago.

They said that after the Israeli army first took the town on Saturday night soldiers had ordered about 100 members of the clan to gather in a single house owned by Wael Samouni around dawn on Sunday.

At 6.35am on Monday the house was repeatedly shelled with appalling loss of civilian life.

A handful of survivors, some wounded, others carrying dead or dying infants, made it on foot to Gaza's main north-south road before they were given lifts to hospital. Three small children were buried in Gaza City that afternoon.

According to the survivors between 60 and 70 family members had been killed by shrapnel and falling masonry.

Convoys of ambulances twice headed to the area to look for wounded but they were driven back by Israeli shooting.

During today's three hour lull in offensive operations by Israel, the ICRC led the rescue convoy in although it took a long time for the convoy to make its way down war-damaged.

According to Mr Shaheen, the death toll was as high as described by the survivors.

Israeli conflict on the web

 

A Palestinian carries a sack of flour received from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza January 7, 2009. Israel and Hamas said they were temporarily holding their fire in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday to ease the flow of humanitarian aid and both sides said they were studying an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire.

A Palestinian carries a sack of flour received from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza January 7, 2009. Israel and Hamas said they were temporarily holding their fire in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday to ease the flow of humanitarian aid and both sides said they were studying an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire. (Mohammed Salem - Reuters)

World Rallies Against, For Gaza Airstrikes

As Diplomacy Fails To Halt Israeli Offensive, Protestors Lash Out Against Both Attacks On Hamas, Palestinian Rockets

(CBS/AP) Protests against Israel's airstrikes on Gaza continued around the world, as calls for a ceasefire were raised - along with cries for revenge.

Meanwhile, thousands of Jews and Christians are expected at demonstrations to be held this weekend in New York, London, Toronto, Miami, Washington, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv to protest Hamas' rocket attacks from Gaza.

Some activists are billing the demonstrations as counter-rallies against what they call "assemblies of hatred for Jews and Israel."

Sunday's protest in Miami, to be held at the Holocaust Memorial, is billed as the Rally For Israel to Destroy Hamas.

The protests are ramping up as Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip enters its second week, with warplanes and gunboats blasting more than two dozen Hamas positions Saturday.

"We will do all that is necessary to provide a different reality for southern Israel, which has been under constant attacks for the past eight years," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Channel 2 TV.

The complexity of protesting military strikes in Gaza was recognized as far away from the Middle East as Sioux Falls, S.D., where about 50 people gathered in 16-degree weather Friday near the Islamic Center to denounce U.S. aid to Israel, saying Israel's actions have killed civilians.

Protester Mohamed Sharif of Sioux Falls said they want an immediate cease-fire and humanitarian aid to the people living in Gaza.

"People are being deprived of their necessities, water and medicine and food and clothes. Now they're being killed. This is what we're opposing, the killing of civilians," Sharif said.

South Dakota Peace and Justice Center director Deb McIntyre attended the rally and said the U.S. shouldn't pay for Israel's militarism.

The issue is more complex, others said.

"Certainly, the protesters in Sioux Falls have a legitimate complaint about the Israeli attacks," said Kurt Hackemer, a University of South Dakota history professor. "But the flip side is the Israelis have been taking rocket fire from Hamas for months now. There have been Israeli deaths and casualties."

The bitter divide was evident across the globe.

In Lebanon Saturday, hundreds gathered outside the United Nations compound in Beirut, carrying flags and banners supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement.

Palestinians in Lebanon have been protesting for the past eight days to show their solidarity with the people of Gaza.


A number of Hezbollah lawmakers and supporters also took part in Saturday's protest. (Hundreds of shoes lie in the street after protesters attempted to throw shoes into Downing Street in London, Jan. 3, 2009. Thousands voiced their anger at the bombing of Gaza in a series of rallies across the U.K, Saturday.)

The Head of Hezbollah's political bureau, Mahmoud Qomati vowed that Hamas' response to the Israeli military offensive will be similar to that of Hezbollah during Israel's war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

"The resistance in Gaza is preparing surprises for the Israeli enemy," said Qomati, who promised Israelis "will be surprised in Gaza with a fierce, brave, and heroic confrontation which will lead to their defeat, God willing."

Police in Berlin said about 2,000 protestors marched with banners and Palestinian flags from Adenauer Platz to Wittenbergplatz. Protestors chanted "Stop the child murder at Palestine" and "Stop the blockade at Palestine."

Protestor Achmed Otur said Israel's policy with the Palestinians "just creates distrust between East and West, between Muslims and Christians and Jews. It only divides and all trust is destroyed in this kind of world."

While international pressure for a ceasefire has been growing, protestor Malik Hamudsaid said, "We only see conferences talking about fighting terrorism one day. Is this how one fights terror, by slaughtering people and by saying you are not allowed to do something? Terror is when you spread fear and terror among the civilians, and what Israel is doing is pure terror."

In The Netherlands, thousands of people marched through Amsterdam, criticizing both the Israeli attacks and the Dutch government's failure to condemn them. One banner declared: "Anne Frank is turning in her grave."


Barbed Wire And Skulls

In Bogota, Colombia, demonstrators walking through the streets set fire to self-styled Israeli and U.S. flags, complete with drawings of barbed wire and skulls.

Ali Nofal, a protester of Palestinian origin participating at the rally in the Colombian capital, said that an end to the Gaza conflict is in the hands of the Israeli government, "because we, the Palestinian people, have nothing to say to this policy of aggression. The entire world and the U.N. Council have the way to end this, the Western world has the way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

In Cyprus, 2,000 demonstrators, including Palestinians and Greek and Turkish Cypriots, converged Saturday in the center of the Cypriot capital of Nicosia. It was the largest protest on the Mediterranean island so far on the issue of Gaza.

The peaceful rally turned violent when some protesters tried to pull away barbed wire and break through a line of riot police blocking a road leading to the Israeli embassy.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators pelted Cypriot riot police with rocks, sticks, shoes and oranges.

The demonstrators eventually stopped and dispersed after protest leaders pleaded with them to stop.

In Athens, however, a protest march turned violent, as protesters threw stones and fire bombs at riot police, who retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades.

An estimated 5,000 protesters marched from the city center to the Israeli embassy on Saturday. Police cordoned off the embassy.

Most of the protesters were Palestinians but leftist organizations and union members also joined in. Outside the embassy, anarchist youths joined the fray, targeting Greek police rather than the embassy. An Israeli flag was burned by demonstrators.

Some protesters also threw stones at the U.S. embassy without causing damage.

In Jakarta, hundreds of Indonesians from various Muslim groups staged a protest in front of the U.S. embassy on Saturday to voice their concern over Israel's military offensive on Gaza.

The protesters demanded the U.S stop their support of Israel and called for solidarity among Muslim brothers within Indonesia.

Jeje Zainuddin, a Muslim youth group leader, said, "I think all the nations agree that what Israel has done is inhuman, but the problem is, will the international community dare to condemn Israel's actions?"

"We still hope that the United Nations and America will get involved in the process, because this is not just about Muslims, it's about universal human rights," Zainuddin said.

At a protest yesterday outside Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Calgary constituency office, demonstrators compared Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Adolph Hitler.

Muslim Council of Calgary chairman Nagah Hage denounced Olmert as a Nazi for what he called the "barbaric" bombing of Gaza, and said Harper's support for Israel makes him complicit in the Gaza bloodbath.

A lone counter-demonstrator defending Israel's right to stop Hamas rocket attacks was cursed by the crowd.


More Throwing Of Shoes

In London, several thousand people, many carrying Palestinian flags, marched past Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street residence to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Outside Downing Street, hundreds of protesters stopped and threw shoes at the tall iron gates blocking entry to the narrow road.

Shoe-throwing has become a popular gesture of protest and contempt since an Iraqi journalist pelted U.S. President George W. Bush with a pair of brogues in Baghdad last month.
  Among the London marchers were activist Bianca Jagger, ex-Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox and comedian Alexei Sayle.
  "As a Jew, it's very moving to see so many people who are so outraged at Israel's actions," Sayle said. "Israel is a democratic country that is behaving like a terrorist organization."
  Rallies were being held in other British cities, including Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.
Outside the Israeli Embassy tempers flared, as protestors threw a barrier at police.
  The clashes began after a small group of protesters stormed a barrier that had been penning them in. Riot police were brought in to control the crowds and demonstrators were seen being handcuffed and taken away by officers as they tried to clear the street.
  Several protesters left the scene with bloodied faces, according to a reporter from the Press Association.
  Brown's office said Saturday the British leader had phoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and called for an immediate ceasefire.
  "Rocket attacks from Hamas must stop, and we have called for a halt to Israeli military action in Gaza," a spokesman said, on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "Too many have died and we need space to get humanitarian supplies to those who need them."
  President George W. Bush has declined to criticize Israel, branding Hamas rocket fire an "act of terror." But he has joined other world leaders in calling for an internationally monitored truce.
  U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also has backed a cease-fire, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to visit the region next week as part of a diplomatic push to stop the violence.

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Outside the Israeli Embassy tempers flared, as protestors threw a barrier at police.

The clashes began after a small group of protesters stormed a barrier that had been penning them in. Riot police were brought in to control the crowds and demonstrators were seen being handcuffed and taken away by officers as they tried to clear the street.



(Fiona Hanson, Press Assn. via AP)
(Hundreds of shoes lie in the street after protesters attempted to throw shoes into Downing Street in London, Jan. 3, 2009. Thousands voiced their anger at the bombing of Gaza in a series of rallies across the U.K, Saturday.)

The Head of Hezbollah's political bureau, Mahmoud Qomati vowed that Hamas' response to the Israeli military offensive will be similar to that of Hezbollah during Israel's war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.



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Demonstrators in Marseille carry a large Palestinian flag in a protest against Israel's military operation in Gaza
Demonstrators in Marseille, France, carry a large Palestinian flag in a protest against Israel's military operation in Gaza, Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009. The banner reads "Israel terrorist state, Europe accomplice." (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Pro-Palestinian demonstraters take part in a protest against Israel's military operation in Gaza, in Duesseldorf
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest Israel's military operation in Gaza, on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (AP Photo/Roberto Pfeil)
Supporters of Israel's recent attacks on Gaza and Hamas rally at the Federal Building in Westwood area of Los Angeles
Supporters of Israel's recent attacks on Hamas in the Gaza Strip rally at the Federal Building in the Westwood area of Los Angeles, Friday, Jan. 2, 2009. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
An Israeli Arab girl with the Palestinian flag painted on her face joins thousands of Israeli Arabs protesting against Israel's military operation in Gaza, in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin
An Israeli Arab girl joins thousands protesting Israel's military operation in Gaza, in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin, Jan. 3, 2009. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)



Ending the War in Gaza

Middle East Briefing N°26
5 January 2009

OVERVIEW

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I am not who I think I am or is I 
From Avaaz.org:


The newly-elected Congress has been sworn in?and has a chance to urge a comprehensive ceasefire in Gaza that would end the violence, including Israel's shelling and ground attack and Hamas's rockets; end weapons smuggling, and open Gaza's border crossings to ease the humanitarian crisis.

Follow the link below, enter your information, and we'll connect your phone directly to the offices of your Senators and Representative. It's incredibly easy, and won't cost you any more than an incoming call:

http://www.avaaz.org/avaaz_gaza_congress_action

The bloodshed in Gaza is escalating. Israeli tanks, airplanes and artillery bombard suspected Hamas sites in the midst of thickly populated urban areas, and Hamas continues to fight and fire rockets deep into Israel. More than 600 lay dead in Palestine, including more than 100 children, and eleven Israelis have lost their lives.[1]

Amidst the violence, more than 250,000 Avaaz members worldwide have signed the emergency petition calling for an immediate ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides.[2] The idea is winning the support of leaders in Europe, the Middle East and beyond. But Bush continues to block such a step, insisting he will only support an imposed ceasefire on Israel's terms rather than one based on negotiations with all parties. Without a fair agreement, the violence will only continue.[3]

This week, your Senators and Representative will almost certainly consider statements and resolutions related to Gaza. Most in Congress feel that they can't do anything more than offer support and sympathy to Israel and reaffirm its right to defend itself.

Congress needs to know that it can and must do more?that many Americans are horrified by the current violence, and want an immediate fair ceasefire to make sure civilians on both sides are protected. Click now to call your Senators and Representative using our easy-to-use new call-in tool to urge statements of support for a ceasefire:

http://www.avaaz.org/avaaz_gaza_congress_action

Thanks for everything you've done so far to advocate for an end to this round of violence.

With hope,

Ricken, Iain, Graziela, Ben, Alice, Pascal, Milena, Paul, Veronique, Luis, Paula, Brett -- and the rest of the Avaaz team

SOURCES:

1. Associated Press: "Israel Shells Near UN School, killing at least 30" (5 January 2009)
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ioi_0jtO9RjMwPNRoXNCndRPRq3gD95HTJE00

2. See the "Gaza: Stop the Bloodshed" petition at Avaaz.org:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/gaza_time_for_peace/22.php

3. "Gaza: outlines of an endgame", Ghassan Khatib (6 January 2009):
http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/gaza-outlines-of-an-endgame

Al-Jazeera: "Arab ministers hold UN ceasefire talks" (6 January 2009):
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/01/20091522052418539.html

Associated Press: "Diplomats seek truce as civilian toll rises" (5 January 2009): http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ioi_0jtO9RjMwPNRoXNCndRPRq3gD95HCD4G3

International Crisis Group's Ending the War in Gaza report (5 January 2009):
http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5838&l=1
Posted by Carol Novack at 4:55 PM
Labels: , ,


http://carolnovack.blogspot.com/2009/01/urge-comprehensive-ceasefire-in-gaza.html


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Urge a comprehensive ceasefire in Gaza

From Avaaz.org:


The newly-elected Congress has been sworn in—and has a chance to urge a comprehensive ceasefire in Gaza that would end the violence, including Israel's shelling and ground attack and Hamas's rockets; end weapons smuggling, and open Gaza's border crossings to ease the humanitarian crisis.

Follow the link below, enter your information, and we'll connect your phone directly to the offices of your Senators and Representative. It's incredibly easy, and won't cost you any more than an incoming call:

http://www.avaaz.org/avaaz_gaza_congress_action

The bloodshed in Gaza is escalating. Israeli tanks, airplanes and artillery bombard suspected Hamas sites in the midst of thickly populated urban areas, and Hamas continues to fight and fire rockets deep into Israel. More than 600 lay dead in Palestine, including more than 100 children, and eleven Israelis have lost their lives.[1]

Amidst the violence, more than 250,000 Avaaz members worldwide have signed the emergency petition calling for an immediate ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides.[2] The idea is winning the support of leaders in Europe, the Middle East and beyond. But Bush continues to block such a step, insisting he will only support an imposed ceasefire on Israel's terms rather than one based on negotiations with all parties. Without a fair agreement, the violence will only continue.[3]

This week, your Senators and Representative will almost certainly consider statements and resolutions related to Gaza. Most in Congress feel that they can't do anything more than offer support and sympathy to Israel and reaffirm its right to defend itself.

Congress needs to know that it can and must do more—that many Americans are horrified by the current violence, and want an immediate fair ceasefire to make sure civilians on both sides are protected. Click now to call your Senators and Representative using our easy-to-use new call-in tool to urge statements of support for a ceasefire:

http://www.avaaz.org/avaaz_gaza_congress_action

Thanks for everything you've done so far to advocate for an end to this round of violence.

With hope,

Ricken, Iain, Graziela, Ben, Alice, Pascal, Milena, Paul, Veronique, Luis, Paula, Brett -- and the rest of the Avaaz team

SOURCES:

1. Associated Press: "Israel Shells Near UN School, killing at least 30" (5 January 2009)
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ioi_0jtO9RjMwPNRoXNCndRPRq3gD95HTJE00

2. See the "Gaza: Stop the Bloodshed" petition at Avaaz.org:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/gaza_time_for_peace/22.php

3. "Gaza: outlines of an endgame", Ghassan Khatib (6 January 2009):
http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/gaza-outlines-of-an-endgame

Al-Jazeera: "Arab ministers hold UN ceasefire talks" (6 January 2009):
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/01/20091522052418539.html

Associated Press: "Diplomats seek truce as civilian toll rises" (5 January 2009): http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ioi_0jtO9RjMwPNRoXNCndRPRq3gD95HCD4G3

International Crisis Group's Ending the War in Gaza report (5 January 2009):
http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5838&l=1

Israeli Army soldiers take cover as a mobile artillery piece fires towards targets in the southern Gaza Strip, on the Israel side of the border with Gaza Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. Israel ignored mounting international calls for a cease-fire and said it won't stop its crippling 10-day assault until "peace and tranquility" are achieved in southern Israeli towns in the line of Palestinian rocket fire. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)




Israel shells near UN school, killing at least 30

By IBRAHIM BARZAK and STEVE WEIZMAN –
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ioi_0jtO9RjMwPNRoXNCndRPRq3gD95HTJE00

A Palestinian carries a wounded girl who according to Palestinian medical sources was injured in Israeli forces' operations in Gaza, to Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. An Israeli bombardment hit outside a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge on Tuesday, and Palestinian medics said at least 34 people died as international outrage grew over civilian deaths. (AP Photo/AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Israeli soldiers carry the flag-draped coffin of Maj. Dagan Wertman, 32, who died in an operation in the Gaza Strip on Monday, during his funeral at the Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. Wertman and two other soldiers were killed by an Israeli tank shell in an apparent friendly-fire incident, Israeli sources said. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Palestinians carry a wounded boy who according to Palestinian medical sources was injured in Israeli forces' operations in Gaza, to Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. An Israeli bombardment hit outside a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge on Tuesday, and Palestinian medics said at least 34 people died as international outrage grew over civilian deaths. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Smoke caused by explosions from Israeli forces' operations rises from buildings on the outskirts of Gaza City, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. Israeli mortar shells struck outside a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge on Tuesday, killing at least 30 people, many of them children whose parents wailed in grief at a hospital filled with dead and wounded. (AP Photos/Hatem Moussa)
A Palestinian boy walks on the rubble of a building used by Hamas security forces, destroyed by Israeli forces' operations in Gaza City, Tuesday, Jan. 6. 2009. An Israeli bombardment struck outside a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge on Tuesday, the U.N. and Palestinian medics said, killing at least 30 people, many of them children whose parents wailed in grief at a hospital filled with dead and wounded. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
An Israeli soldier prays as he stands next to tanks at a staging area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. An Israeli bombardment struck outside a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge on Tuesday, the U.N. and Palestinian medics said, killing at least 30 people, many of them children whose parents wailed in grief at a hospital filled with dead and wounded. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Palestinians inspect the rubble of a destroyed building following Israeli forces' operations in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. An Israeli bombardment hit outside a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge on Tuesday, and Palestinian medics said at least 34 people died as international outrage grew over civilian deaths. (AP Photo/Khaled Omar)
Israeli mourners comfort each other during the funeral of Staff Sgt. Nitai Stern, 21, who died in an operation in the Gaza Strip on Monday, during his funeral at the Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. Stern and two other soldiers were killed by an Israeli tank shell in an apparent friendly-fire incident, Israeli sources said. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Israeli soldiers react during the funeral of Staff Sgt. Nitai Stern, 21, who died in an operation in the Gaza Strip on Monday, during his funeral at the Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. Stern and two other soldiers were killed by an Israeli tank shell in an apparent friendly-fire incident, Israeli sources said. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
A Palestinian carries a wounded boy who according to Palestinian medical sources was injured in Israeli forces' operations in Gaza, to Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. An Israeli bombardment hit outside a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge on Tuesday, and Palestinian medics said at least 34 people died as international outrage grew over civilian deaths. (AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)

GAZA CITY, Gaza (AP) — Israeli mortar shells struck outside a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge on Tuesday, killing at least 30 people — many of them children whose parents wailed in grief at a hospital filled with dead and wounded.

The Israeli army said its soldiers came under fire from militants hiding in the school and responded. It accused Gaza's Hamas rulers of "cynically" using civilians as human shields. Residents confirmed the account, saying militants were seen staging attacks from the area.

Despite international criticism over civilian deaths and a diplomatic push to broker a cease-fire, Israeli said it would push on with the offensive against Hamas.

Israeli ground forces edged closer to two major Gaza towns, and a total of 70 Palestinians were killed Tuesday — with just two confirmed as militants, health officials in Gaza said. A top U.N. official called for an investigation into the civilian death toll.

Past Israeli ground offensives have been cut short when an errant shell or missile hit a civilian center, leading to international outcries that forced Israel to stand down.

The shelling Tuesday in the northern town of Jebaliya marked the second time in hours a U.N. school came under attack; three people were killed in an attack on another U.N. school in Gaza City on Monday night.

Tuesday's assault was the deadliest since Israel sent ground forces into Gaza last weekend as part of a larger offensive against Hamas that has killed more than 600 Palestinians, according to local hospital officials. Nearly half of the dead are civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian officials.

"There's nowhere safe in Gaza. Everyone here is terrorized and traumatized," John Ging, the top U.N. official in Gaza, said after the Monday night attack on the compound of a U.N. school. The school has served as a shelter for refugees fleeing the 11-day offensive.

A Palestinian rocket — one of two dozen fired from Gaza on Tuesday — wounded an Israeli infant.

Dr. Bassam Abu Warda, director of Kamal Adwan Hospital, said 36 people were killed in the Israeli strike on the U.N. school in Jebaliya. The United Nations confirmed 30 were killed and 55 injured by tank shells.

In a statement, the Israeli army said an initial investigation found that "mortar shells were fired from within the school at IDF soldiers. The force responded with mortars at the source of fire. The Hamas cynically uses civilians as human shields."

The army said two Hamas militants — Imad Abu Askar and Hasan Abu Askar — were among the dead.

Two neighborhood residents confirmed the Israeli account, saying a group of militants fired mortars from a street near the school, then fled into a crowd of people in the streets. Israel then opened fire.

The residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety, said the Abu Askar brothers were known low-level Hamas militants.

The attack occurred at mid-afternoon, when many people were out and about. Many people apparently stepped outside the shelter to get some air, thinking an area around a school was safe.

Palestinian militants frequently fire from residential areas. However, Mohammed Nassar, a medic who treated the wounded, said he saw no gunmen among the casualties.

Footage broadcast on Hamas' Al Aqsa TV showed gruesome scenes at the hospital. At first, medics carried in at least five younger boys who were laid out on the hospital floor. It was not clear whether they were alive.

Other medics then started unloading bodies of men who had been stacked up in the back of an ambulance, three high, and were dragged without stretchers. One man's legs had been turned into bloody stumps that dragged on the ground as he was pulled from the ambulance.

The emergency room was packed, with all beds occupied and barely a patch of ground unoccupied by either a body or a doctor. In other rooms, there were bloodstains and bodies on the floor. Medics ran in to take pulses.

"I saw a lot of women and children wheeled in," said Fares Ghanem, another hospital official. "A lot of the wounded were missing limbs and a lot of the dead were in pieces."

Majed Hamdan, an AP photographer, said he rushed to the scene shortly after the attacks. At the hospital, he said, many children were among the dead.

"I saw women and men — parents — slapping their faces in grief, screaming, some of them collapsed to the floor. They knew their children were dead," he said. "In the morgue, most of the killed appeared to be children. In the hospital, there wasn't enough space for the wounded."

He said there were marks of five separate explosions, all in the area near the school.

U.N. officials say they provided their location coordinates to Israel's army to ensure their buildings in Gaza are not targeted.

Speaking shortly after the first attack, Maxwell Gaylard, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, demanded an investigation.

"As one of the most densely populated places in the world, it is clear that more civilians will be killed," he said. "These tragic incidents need to be investigated, and if international humanitarian law has been contravened, those responsible must held accountable."

In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called it "the darkest moment yet for the Middle East." He said he had been in touch with world leaders, including from Egypt and Turkey, to discuss ways to forge a cease-fire.

Israel launched its offensive on Dec. 27 to halt repeated Palestinian rocket attacks on its southern towns. After a weeklong air campaign, Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza over the weekend.

Ten Israelis have died since the operation began, including a soldier who was shot on Tuesday.

United Nations staff estimate around 15,000 people have fled to 23 U.N.-run schools they have turned into makeshift shelters. U.N. food aid has halted in the northern Gaza Strip because officials fear residents would risk their lives to reach distribution centers.

Tanks rumbled closer to the towns of Khan Younis and Dir el Balah in south and central Gaza but were still several kilometers (miles) outside, witnesses said, adding that the sounds of fighting could be heard from around the Israeli positions. Israel has encircled Gaza City, the area's biggest city.

The civilian death toll has drawn international condemnations and raised concerns of a humanitarian disaster. Many Gazans are without electricity or running water, thousands have been displaced from their homes and residents say food supplies are running thin.

"This is not a crisis, it's a disaster," said water utility official Munzir Shiblak. "We are not even able to respond to the cry of the people." He said about 800,000 residents in Gaza City and northern parts of the territory had no access to running water from Tuesday. Gaza's overall population is 1.4 million people.

Israel says it won't stop the assault until its southern towns are freed of the threat of Palestinian rocket fire and it receives international guarantees that Hamas, a militant group backed by Iran and Syria, will not restock its weapons stockpile.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he hoped to stop the offensive soon, but said it would depend on Hamas' willingness to stop attacks and stop smuggling weapons into Gaza from Egypt.

"We have no interest in endlessly continuing the campaign. It will stop when the conditions that are essential for Israel's security are met," he said in the rocket-scarred southern Israeli town of Sderot.

The army says it has dealt a harsh blow to Hamas, killing 130 militants in the past two days and greatly reducing the rocket fire. Hamas is believed to have 20,000 fighters.

Israeli forces have seized the main Gaza highway in several places, cutting the strip into northern, southern and central sectors. Israel also has taken over high-rise buildings in Gaza City and destroyed dozens of smuggling tunnels — Hamas' main lifeline — along the Egyptian border.

A high-level European Union delegation met with President Shimon Peres on Tuesday in a futile bid to end the violence. Commissioner Benita Ferraro-Waldner acknowledged Israel's right to self-defense, but said its response was disproportionate.

"We have come to Israel in order to advance the initiative for a humanitarian cease-fire and I will tell you, Mr. President, that you have a serious problem with international advocacy, and that Israel's image is being destroyed," she said, according to a statement from Peres' office.

Israeli leaders say there is no humanitarian crisis and that they have allowed the delivery of vital supplies.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy left Israel after a day of meetings with leaders.

Sarkozy continued to Damascus, urging Syria on Tuesday to pressure Hamas to end the fighting. His Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, slammed the Israeli assault on the coastal strip as a "war crime" and "barbaric," an "aggression" that Israel must halt.

In Washington, the State Department said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was traveling to the United Nations Tuesday to try to broker a sustainable cease-fire.

She planned meetings with Arab and European diplomats to lobby for a three-tiered U.S. truce proposal and will then attend a U.N. Security Council meeting on Gaza, spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Key elements demanded by the U.S.: an end to rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and securing border crossings between Gaza and Israel and between Gaza and Egypt.

Israel's operation has angered many across the Arab world and has drawn criticism from Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, which have ties with Israel and have been involved in Mideast peacemaking.

Barzak reported from Gaza City, Weizman from Jerusalem.




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                         Bush has repeatedly blamed
                 Hamas for the crisis in Gaza [Reuters]

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http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/01/20091522052418539.html

News Americas


Arab foreign ministers have held talks at the United Nations in New York to press the Security Council for action over the crisis in Gaza. The meeting on Monday of the Palestinian, Egyptian and other ministers with Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, follows a US decision to block a Libyan-backed proposal for the UN to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza last weekend. Al Jazeera's Ghida Fakhry at the UN in New York said UN sources now described the Libyan proposal as "dead" and said a new proposed resolution was being mooted by the French, current president of the council, who were attempting to gain Arab support for it. UN sources said the proposed new resolution would have three main points: An urging for an immediate ceasefire, the formation of some sort of "humanitarian corridor" for much-needed aid and a form of "monitoring mechanism" for the ceasefire.

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Jean-Maurice Ripert, French ambassador to the UN said after the discussions: "We will do our best to have a resolution as soon as possible, and as soon as feasible." However Gabriela Shalev, Israel's UN ambassador said there was no point any ceasefire resolution while Hamas fighters continued to fire rockets at Israel. "The situation will be ripe for a ceasefire whenever Hamas will stop shooting the rockets and we will have guarantees that there is going to be a comprehensive package to ensure a long-term ceasefire," she told Reuters news agency. Further informal talks between council members are expected to continue on Tuesday morning, while later on in the day Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, will also arrive in New York for talks with the UN secretary-general. An open meeting is also reported to be held on Tuesday where Abbas will address the council.

'Arab harmony'

Ahead of the meeting Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, said the meeting was to "show harmony among Arabs" and support for a speedy end to the Israeli offensive. Malki said he hoped the Security Council would pass a resolution calling for an "immediate and permanent" ceasefire in Gaza. Malki said the Arabs wanted "a resolution that will permit first of all ending the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza and calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, lifting the siege, opening the crossings between Gaza and Israel, and also between Gaza and Egypt". At least 548 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the last 10 days, with more than 80 deaths reported since Israeli launched a ground offensive that began on Saturday.

In a statement released on Sunday, Ban appealed "to all members of the international community to display the unity and commitment required to bring this escalating crisis to an end". An Arab draft resolution circulated by Libya last week, condemning Israel and calling for an end to its offensive, was dismissed by the US as "unacceptable" and "unbalanced" because it did not call for an end to Hamas rocketfire targeting Israel. On Monday, George Bush, the US president, said any ceasefire to end the Gaza crisis must include provisions that prevent Hamas from using the coastal strip to fire rockets into Israel. "Instead of caring about the people of Gaza, Hamas decided to use Gaza to use rockets to kill innocent Israelis," Bush said at the White House. "Any ceasefire must have the conditions in it so that Hamas does not use Gaza as a place from which to launch rockets," Bush added.

Feedback Number of comments : 15
 
Sofia
Netherlands
06/01/2009
UN
United Nations ? , Security Council ? It should be clear to all of us that they are not for everybody in this world, but just for the people that are supporters of and being supported by Bush and Israel. So to me it is a puzzle why the so "called" Arab leaders are making this trip? Are they blind or don't they have some selfrespect!

Matt
Egypt
06/01/2009
US Timothy, you are confusing the issue. Defending yourself does not justify the disproportionate death of civilians, 25% of the total casualties. It does not justify bombing a crowded mosque during prayer time as Israel did. Even if there were munitions inside, the strike should've been carried out in a way that minimized civilian casualties, while this maximized them. Hamas is not justified in targeting civilians (which it has done). But it is justified in seeking to end the blockade.

Steve
Israel
06/01/2009
SUICIDAL TENDENCIES
This entire Arab-Israeli conflict is not about right or wrong. It is tribal, racist and clearly self-defeating. Hamas does not represent the Arabs, they represent Tehran. Support for Hamas is support for Iran, as is Hizbullah, and despite how much the Arab world hates us Jews, they really ought to fear Iran more as it is your real enemy. Sadly, the Arab world is only bringing on their own destruction, again.

True Muslim
Afghanistan
06/01/2009
Timothy from USA.
Thanks true American, timothy. Somebody from Europe comes to my country and take my land, make me refugee in my own place. I will fire rockets for 100 years. Wake up Americans, the world is changing. People are tired of you.

Norberto
Argentina
06/01/2009
Fait acompli
The issue is two folded: 1- stop immediately the mass murder of Palestinian people 2- Israel must be disarmed and the criminals must pay for their crimes, and that includes Bush and Cheney.

Bob
Afghanistan
06/01/2009
Bushs remarks
Who are the Israelis killing? Women ,children and non military. 2 to7 year old terrorist? Yeah no terrorism there. Bush makes me ashamed to be an American. We supply the weapons these brave warriors use to kill civilians. A proud day for the USA.

Mohammed
United Kingdom
06/01/2009
March to Rafah
The only solution to this whole crisis is to march to Rafah, even if there is mass killing by Israel. This should finish once and for all. Just break the crossing, UN will never help you.

anita
Australia
06/01/2009
Innocents
Enough Death, maiming and injuries to innocents. Leaders from both Palestine and Israel should attend a meeting at the UN to thrash out differences. That EXCLUDES Bush.

troy
Canada
06/01/2009
Arab solution
What the Arab nations need to do is start selling oil in Euros instead of dollars that will hit the US where it really hurts their wallets

venice
China
06/01/2009
Bush never learn and even at the end of his presidency of the united states he cannot even do something good as the compensation for what he had done for the arab people. Is he manipulated by israel we wonder?

Timothy
United States
06/01/2009
Bob in Afghanistan
Bob you are not a true American if you believe Bush is responsible for this. I someone was firing rockets into my yard, I would kill them. No matter who they put in my way.

Ismail
United Kingdom
06/01/2009
Response to Timothy from the US
Timothy, If someone stole your land, cut off your water supply and fuel supply, murdered your kids would you do anything to get yourself out of that fix?

O Oulabi
United Kingdom
06/01/2009
Withdraw from the UN
Israel is using the rockets as an excuse to further humilate the Palestinians, Gaza has been cut off from the outside for 18months with very limited Water, Petrol, Food and electricity, and now this bombardment to kill them off. Yet the UN is blaming Hamas. They do not want them to resist. Why don't the Arabs withdraw from the UN, there is no point for them they just do what the US wants and even if there is no Veto no ones takes the UN seriously.

Areef
United Kingdom
06/01/2009
George Bush
George Bush said "Instead of caring about the people of Gaza, Hamas decided to use Gaza to use rockets to kill innocent Israelis" Is Israeli killing of innocent Palestinians thereby justified? Millions would argue that instead of caring about the people of the USA George Bush used the USA to launch illegal wars against other nation states. Is it then justifiable to kill American civilians provided your main target is Bush's criminal regime?

Otis
United Kingdom
06/01/2009
Blame Bush
What a joke, to blame Bush. He is a fool but those that blame him for Gaza are more foolish. Instead, blame the horror in Gaza on Hamas and its allies and also on those who voted them into power knowing that Hamas' charter is war with Israel. They are getting what they voted for... a war with Israel.
IN DEPTH

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Watch our coverage of the war on Gaza




































http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ioi_0jtO9RjMwPNRoXNCndRPRq3gD95HCD4G3

Diplomats seek truce as Gaza's civilian toll rises

By IBRAHIM BARZAK and JASON KEYSER –

A Palestinian man holds his head in his hands as he reacts at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Israeli forces pounded Gaza Strip houses, mosques and smuggling tunnels on Monday from the air, land and sea, killing at least seven children as they pressed a bruising offensive against Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)

GAZA CITY, Gaza — Israel ignored mounting international calls for a cease-fire Monday and said it won't stop its crippling 10-day assault until "peace and tranquility" are achieved in southern Israeli towns in the line of Palestinian rocket fire. Three Israeli soldiers died in a friendly fire incident.

Israeli forces seized control of high-rise buildings and attacked smuggling tunnels and several mosques in a campaign against Hamas militants that took an increasing toll on civilians. Three young brothers were reported killed during shelling. Palestinian wounded filled hospital corridors.

Arab delegates met with the U.N. Security Council in New York Monday, urging members to adopt a resolution calling for an immediate end to the Israeli attacks and a permanent cease-fire. At the same time, diplomats and European leaders traveled the region in an effort to stop Israel's expanding ground and air offensive.

In the first serious clash in an urban area, Israeli troops and Hamas militants fought a gunbattle on the outskirts of the crowded Gaza City neighborhood of Shajaiyeh, Israeli defense officials said. Details also emerged of an unsuccessful attempt by Hamas fighters to capture Israeli soldiers hours after the ground operation began Saturday with a withering round of artillery fire. Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu told Israeli TV the assault was going according to plan with forces sweeping through Palestinian rocket launching locations near the border. Later, the Israeli military said three soldiers were killed and 24 others wounded Monday evening by friendly fire. It said an errant Israeli tank shell hit their position outside Gaza City, adding that initial suspicions that a Hamas booby-trap caused the casualties were ruled out. Israel Radio reported a colonel who commanded an infantry brigade was among the injured. Despite Israeli claims that casualties have been heavy among militants, no Hamas fighters were seen Monday by an Associated Press reporter at Shifa Hospital, the Gaza Strip's largest. Instead, the hospital was overwhelmed with civilians. Bodies were two to a morgue drawer, and the wounded were being treated in hallways because beds were full. Gaza health officials reported that since the campaign began on Dec. 27 more than 550 Palestinians have been killed and 2,500 wounded, including 200 civilians. U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters in New York on Monday that U.N. officials believe at least 500 people have been killed in the fighting and that as many as 25 percent are civilians. At least 20 Palestinian children were killed during the day, said Dr. Moaiya Hassanain, a health official. Most confirmed deaths have been civilians. The three brothers died in an attack on a town outside Gaza City, a Gaza health official said. They were carried to a cemetery in an emotional funeral. One of them, Issa Samouni, 3, was wrapped in a white cloth, showing only his pale, yellow face. A man delicately placed him in a dark grave cut into the earth. In Shajaiyeh, troops seized control of three six-story buildings on the outskirts, climbing to rooftop gun and observation positions, Israeli defense officials said. Residents were locked in their rooms and soldiers took away their cell phones, a neighbor said, quoting a relative who called before his phone was seized. "The army is there, firing in all directions," said Mohammed Salmai, a 29-year-old truck driver. "All we can do is take clothes to each other to keep ourselves warm and pray to God that if we die, someone will find our bodies under the rubble." Fighter jets attacked houses, weapons storage sites, a pair of mosques and smuggling tunnels, as they have since the start of the offensive. Israel has attacked several mosques during the campaign, saying they were used to store weapons. In another strategic move, Israeli forces seized a main highway in Gaza, slicing the territory in two. Israeli defense officials said one soldier was killed when soldiers fought off an attempt by Hamas fighters to capture Israeli soldiers hours after the ground operation began. They said the infantrymen were advancing up a strategic hill before dawn Sunday when militants emerged from a tunnel and tried to drag two Israeli infantrymen inside. That death and the three soldiers killed by friendly fire brought to eight the number of Israelis killed since the offensive began. One other soldier and three civilians were killed during the initial air phase of the offensive. Israeli officials are concerned that heavy casualties amoung its troops could undermine what has so far been overwhelming public support for the operation. Hamas already holds one Israeli soldier, captured in June 2006, and another would be an important bargaining chip. Israeli forces detained 80 Palestinians — some of them suspected Hamas members — and transferred several to Israel for questioning, said military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release the information. The Gaza City area was rocked by shelling from both sides as gunboats in the sea and artillery and tanks closing in from the east unloaded thunderous fire. After dark, the shelling reached deeper into residential areas. Fireballs lit up the horizon to the east, setting off blazes on the ground and silhouetting Gaza's tall buildings. Tracer fire ripped across the skyline. The State Department said 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 spokesman Sean McCormack. A third element would address the tunnels into Gaza from Egypt through which Hamas has smuggled materials and arms. President George W. Bush emphasized "Israel's desire to protect itself." "The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas," he said. The deputy head of Hamas' politburo in Syria, Moussa Abu Marzouk, rejected the U.S. proposal, telling the AP 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 last week, met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who lost control of Gaza to Hamas in June 2007. Europe "wants a cease-fire as quickly as possible," Sarkozy said after meeting Abbas, urging Israel to halt the offensive, while blaming Hamas for acting "irresponsibly and unpardonably." A European Union delegation met with Israeli 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 took over the EU's presidency last week from France. Rocket attacks on Israel also must stop, Schwarzenberg told a news conference with Livni. The EU brought no truce proposals of its own because the cease-fire "must be concluded by the involved parties," he added. As the bruising campaign entered its 10th day Monday, Hamas pummeled southern Israel with more than 30 rockets 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. One of the rockets struck a large outdoor market that was closed at the time in the town of Sderot, just across Gaza's northeastern border. Another hit a kindergarten in the coastal city of Ashdod, north of the strip. The kindergarten, like schools across southern Israel, was closed and empty because of the rocket threat. Israel has three main demands: an end to Palestinian attacks, international supervision of any truce, and a halt to Hamas rearming. Hamas demands an end to Israeli attacks and the opening of border crossings to vital cargo. Livni said the operation was designed to change the rules of Israel's struggle against Hamas after years of firing rockets at Israel. From now on, she said, "when Israel is targeted, Israel is going to retaliate." Israeli military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said Hamas was to blame for civilian casualties because it operates in densely populated areas. "If Hamas chose cynically to use those civilians as human shields, then Hamas should be accountable," she said. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar exhorted Palestinians to fight the Israeli forces and target Israeli civilians and Jews abroad. "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," Zahar said in a grainy video broadcast on Hamas TV. Israel's operation has sparked anger across the Arab world and has drawn criticism from countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, which have ties with Israel and have been intimately involved in Mideast peacemaking. In Beirut, Lebanon, protesters tried to pull away barbed wire blocking their path to the U.S. Embassy. They were driven back with heavy blasts of water.

Barzak reported from Gaza City, Keyser from Jerusalem.





A Palestinian man holds his head in his hands as he reacts at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Israeli forces pounded Gaza Strip houses, mosques and smuggling tunnels on Monday from the air, land and sea, killing at least seven children as they pressed a bruising offensive against Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)
Palestinians carry the bodies of three toddlers Ahmed, Mohamed, and Issa Samouni, who according to Palestinian medical sources were killed in an Israeli strike, during their funeral in Gaza City, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Israeli forces pounded Gaza Strip houses, mosques and smuggling tunnels on Monday from the air, land and sea, killing at least seven children as they pressed a bruising offensive against Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Smoke caused by explosions from Israeli strikes rises in the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Israeli forces pounded Gaza Strip houses, mosques and tunnels Monday from the air, land and sea, killing at least seven children and six other civilians, as they consolidated a bruising offensive against Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Wounded Palestinian children arrive for treatment at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, after an Israeli strike early Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Israeli forces pounded Gaza Strip houses, mosques and tunnels on Monday from the air, land and sea, consolidating their grip in the territory's northern half without quelching the rocket fire that provoked Israel's bruising, 10-day-old offensive. Gaza health officials reported 524 dead and nearly 2,000 wounded since Israel embarked upon its military campaign against Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers on Dec. 27.(AP Photo/AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)
Palestinian medics attend to children allegedly injured by an Israeli tank shell, in Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Israeli forces pounded Gaza Strip houses, mosques and smuggling tunnels on Monday from the air, land and sea, killing at least seven children as they pressed a bruising offensive against Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)
Israeli soldiers drive their tank on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip , Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Israeli forces pounded Gaza Strip houses, mosques and tunnels Monday from the air, land and sea, killing at least seven children and six other civilians, as they consolidated a bruising offensive against Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli soldiers stand on top of an Armored Personnel Carrier near the border between southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Israeli forces pounded Gaza Strip houses, mosques and tunnels on Monday from the air, land and sea, consolidating their grip in the territory's northern half without quelching the rocket fire that provoked Israel's bruising, 10-day-old offensive.(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
An Israeli soldier wounded in the Gaza Strip arrives at Soroka Hospital in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009.The expansion of Israel's offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers into ground battles and artillery salvos is taking a heavier toll on the civilians of the crowded sliver of land, including three toddlers killed Monday by the blast of a crashing shell. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
A Palestinian youth moves a burning tire as others stand around during clashes with Israeli troops at a demonstration against Israel's military operation in Gaza, in the West Bank village of Yatta near Hebron, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Israeli forces pounded Gaza Strip houses, mosques and smuggling tunnels on Monday from the air, land and sea, killing at least seven children as they pressed a bruising offensive against Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)



http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5838&l=1
Ending the War in Gaza

Middle East Briefing N°26
5 January 2009 To access this briefing in Hebrew, please click here.

OVERVIEW

A war neither Israel nor Hamas truly wanted turned into a war both are willing to wage. The six-month ceasefire that expired on 19 December was far from ideal. Israel suffered through periodic rocket fire and the knowledge that its foe was amassing lethal firepower. Hamas endured a punishing economic blockade, undermining its hopes of ruling Gaza. A sensible compromise, entailing an end to rocket launches and an opening of the crossings should have been available. But without bilateral engagement, effective third party mediation or mutual trust, it inexorably came to this: a brutal military operation in which both feel they have something to gain. As each day goes by, Israel hopes to further degrade Hamas’s military capacity and reduce the rocket risk; Hamas banks on boosting its domestic and regional prestige. Only urgent international action by parties viewed as credible and trustworthy by both sides can end this before the human and political toll escalates or before Israel’s land incursion – which was launched as this briefing went to press – turns into a venture of uncertain scope, undetermined consequence and all-too-familiar human cost. From Hamas’s perspective, prolonging the ceasefire was appealing but only if that arrangement was modified. Relative calm had enabled it to consolidate power and cripple potential foes. But the siege never was lifted. Increasingly, Hamas leaders were in the uncomfortable position of appearing to want the truce for personal safety at the price of collective hardship. As the expiration date approached, rocket fire intensified, an unsubtle message that Hamas would use violence to force Israel to open the crossings. In the first days, Israel’s retaliatory air campaign shook Hamas’s Qassam fighters by its timing, intensity and scale. But it did not catch them unprepared. Instead, the Islamist movement hopes to reap political benefit from material losses. It knows it is no military match for Israel, but it can claim victory by withstanding the unprecedented onslaught; for a movement that thrives on martyrdom and the image of steadfastness, that would be enough. Its domestic and regional standings, somewhat bruised by its harsh tactics in taking over Gaza and seeming indifference to national unity, would grow far beyond its actual military capability, while those of its domestic foes – President Mahmoud Abbas, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah – are in peril. A ground invasion was expected and, in some Hamas quarters, hoped for. House-to-house guerrilla warfare, they surmise, is more favourable terrain. Should their rule be toppled, some claim to look forward to a return to pure armed struggle, untainted by the stain of governance.From Israel’s perspective, six months of overall quiet had been welcome, if not without perpetual qualms. Hamas used it to amass a more powerful and longer-range arsenal; Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured in 2006, remained imprisoned; and sporadic rocket fire continued. All this it could withstand, but not the intensification of attacks immediately preceding and following the end of the truce. Then, even those most reluctant to escalate felt compelled to act massively. Goals remain hazy. Military success could not be achieved through airpower alone; an end to the operation then, despite massive destruction, would have handed Hamas a political victory. So, while the land incursion might not have been inevitable, once the operation was launched it was virtually preordained. Unlike in Lebanon in 2006, Israel can carry it far: in contrast to Hizbollah, Hamas has neither strategic depth nor resupply ability. It has few allies. Israel can take Gaza and kill or capture most of the military and political leaders. Yet, with such expansive possibilities come risks of equal magnitude for there is no logical exit or end point. Israel might start by occupying areas in Gaza’s north to deal with the short-range rockets, but that would leave longer-range ones. Intensive ground operations can remove many rockets and launchers, but without profound, durable incursion into densely populated areas cannot prevent Hamas from firing. A massive intervention that in effect topples Hamas is looking increasingly possible. But who will take over on the back of Israel’s occupation? How could a then discredited PA assume power? Even crushing military victory ultimately might not be that much, or that lasting, of a political win. Fighting that began as a tug-of-war over terms of a new ceasefire has become a battle over terms of deterrence and the balance of power – with no easy way out. Israel in principle wants a ceasefire, but only after it brings Hamas to its knees, strips it of long-range capabilities and dispels any illusion of a fight among equals in which rocket fire has the same deterrent effect as airforce raids, all of which could take a long time. Hamas, too, has an interest in a ceasefire, but only in return for opening the crossings. In the meantime, it sees every day of conflict as testimony to its resistance credentials. Both inexorably will see more benefit in persevering with violent confrontation than in appearing to give in. That leaves the international community. The impetus to conclude such an asymmetrical war can come one of two ways: for the parties to bloody each other sufficiently, or for the international community to assertively step in. In this, some world actors appear to have learned a useful lesson from the Lebanon war. There is more activism now, from the EU, individual European countries like France, which is seeking to renew its central Middle Eastern role and important regional actors, like Turkey – a nation whose involvement has become all the more critical given the breakdown of trust between Hamas and the traditional mediator, Egypt. Even Cairo, on 5 January, had invited Hamas for talks.

Still, as was the case two years ago, a swift, unconditional end to fighting is bumping up against the argument that this would leave in place ingredients that prompted the conflagration. True enough. The blanks in the defunct ceasefire must be filled. But, Washington’s unhelpful and perilous efforts to slow things down notwithstanding, the most urgent task must be stopping the fighting; already, the absence of effective mediation has contributed to the climb from unreliable ceasefire to long-range rocket fire and massive aerial bombardment to ground offensive. To protect civilians, limit political damage (regional polarisation and radicalisation, further discrediting of any “moderates” or “peace process”) and avoid a further catastrophe (massive loss of life in urban warfare in Gaza, a Hamas rocket hit on a vital Israeli installation), third parties should pressure both sides to immediately halt military action. In short, what is required is a Lebanon-type diplomatic outcome but without the Lebanon-type prolonged timetable.

To be sustainable, cessation of hostilities must be directly followed by steps addressing both sides’ core concerns:

  • an indefinite ceasefire pursuant to which:
  • Hamas would halt all rocket launches, keep armed militants at 500 metres from Israel’s border and make other armed organisations comply; and
  • Israel would halt all military attacks on and withdraw all troops from Gaza;
  • real efforts to end arms smuggling into Gaza, led by Egypt in coordination with regional and international actors;
  • dispatch of a multinational monitoring presence to verify adherence to the ceasefire, serve as liaison between the two sides and defuse potential crises; countries like France, Turkey and Qatar, as well as organisations such as the UN, could play an important part in this; and
  • opening of Gaza’s crossings with Israel and Egypt, together with:
  • return of an EU presence at the Rafah crossing and its extension to Gaza’s crossings with Israel; and
  • coordination between Hamas authorities and the (Ramallah-based) PA at the crossings.

That last point – Hamas’s role – is, of course, the rub, the unresolved dilemma that largely explains why the tragedy unfolded as it did. Gaza’s two-year story has been one of collective failure: by Hamas, which missed the opportunity to act as a responsible political actor; of Israel, which stuck to a shortsighted policy of isolating Gaza and seeking to undermine Hamas that neither helped it nor hurt them; of the PA leadership, which refused to accept the consequences of the Islamists’ electoral victory, sought to undo it and ended up looking like the leader of one segment of the Palestinian community against the other; and of the international community, many regional actors included, which demanded Hamas turn from militant to political organisation without giving it sufficient incentives to do so and only recognised the utility of Palestinian unity after spending years obstructing it.

This should change. Sustainable calm can be achieved neither by ignoring Hamas and its constituents nor by harbouring the illusion that, pummelled into submission, it will accept what it heretofore has rejected. Palestinian reconciliation is a priority, more urgent but also harder than ever before; so, too, is the Islamists’ acceptance of basic international obligations. In the meantime, Hamas – if Israel does not take the perilous step of toppling it – will have to play a political and security role in Gaza and at the crossings. This might mean a “victory” for Hamas, but that is the inevitable cost for a wrongheaded embargo, and by helping end rocket fire and producing a more stable border regime, it would just as importantly be a victory for Israel – and, crucially, both peoples – as well.

» read media release

Ending the War in Gaza

Gaza City/Ramallah/Jerusalem/Brussels, 5 January 2009: Urgent international action must help deliver an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to protect civilians, limit political damage and avoid a further catastrophe.

Ending the War in Gaza,* the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, analyses the bloody developments since expiration of the fragile six-month ceasefire on 19 December and proposes a path to cessation of hostilities and beyond. Third parties viewed as credible and trustworthy by both sides must push the parties to end this before the toll escalates or before Israel’s land incursion turns into a venture of uncertain scope, undetermined consequence and all-too-familiar human cost.  Israel might well win militarily and perhaps even topple Hamas.  But with no clear exit or “day after” scenario, a discredited Palestinian Authority and a debilitated peace process, it might not be much of a political win.

“There are signs important actors – European in particular, the U.S. far less so – have learned from the experience of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war that time is of the essence,” says Crisis Group Senior Analyst Robert Blecher. “It’s not clear whether this bitter lesson will translate into quicker action. But devising a ceasefire acceptable to both sides is not beyond reach.” 

To be sustainable, cessation of hostilities must be directly followed by steps addressing both sides’ core concerns:

  • an indefinite ceasefire pursuant to which:
    • Hamas would halt all rocket launches, keep armed militants at 500 metres from Israel’s border and make other armed organisations comply;
    • Israel would halt all military attacks on, and withdraw all troops from Gaza;
  • real efforts to end arms smuggling into Gaza, led by Egypt in coordination with regional and international actors;
  • dispatch of a multinational monitoring presence to verify adherence to the ceasefire, serve as liaison between the two sides and defuse potential crises; countries like France, Turkey and Qatar as well as organisations such as the UN could play an important part in this;
  • opening of Gaza’s crossings with Israel and Egypt, together with:
    • return of an EU presence at the Rafah crossing and its extension to Gaza’s crossings with Israel; and
    • coordination between Hamas authorities and the (Ramallah-based) Palestinian Authority (PA) at the crossings

“None of this can happen if the international community refuses to shift its approach on Hamas”,  says Nicolas Pelham, Crisis Group Senior Analyst.

This need not mean full-fledged, unconditional acceptance but at a minimum, it means engaging the movement – first to reach a ceasefire; next to liaise between it and Israel in Gaza; and finally, building on such steps, to initiate a gradually more productive political exchange. Europe, in light of its expected presence at the crossings, could take the lead in this endeavour.  

“Gaza’s two-year story has been one of unmitigated collective failure,” says Robert Malley, Director of Crisis Group’s Middle East Program. “Sustainable calm can be achieved neither by the world ignoring Hamas nor by Hamas disregarding basic international obligations.  When the guns fall silent, those lessons, too, will have to be learned.”


Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601
To contact Crisis Group media please click here
*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org

» go to report or briefing

Mahmoud Zahar Dr Zahar says an Islamic empire will stretch from Nigeria to Indonesia one day
"Weapons are cheap but our people are precious - and they haven't changed their minds "
Mahmoud Zahar

Barack ObamaHamas leaders hoped change in the US would be good for Palestinians
John GingJohn Ging runs the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees
Bowen diary: The days before war
 
Smoke billows over Gaza on January 10 as seen from Israel/Gaza borderSmoke billows over Gaza as Israel's offensive enters a third week

BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen is writing a diary of the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

10 January, Tel Aviv airport

I am going to London for a very quick break. I have now spent two weeks looking over the border at the war in Gaza, unable to get in. The only foreign journalist Israel has allowed into Gaza in the last fortnight was a cameraman, my friend Sarge from the BBC, who went in for a day with the army. My last visit was a week or so before the formal end of the ceasefire on 19 December. I try to visit places in the Middle East that are newsworthy at times when I don't actively have to do a story. It is easier to have a proper talk when you don't have a deadline and a camera breathing down your neck. I am sitting on an airliner on a beautiful Tel Aviv winter morning, with the takeoff delayed because Heathrow Airport is iced-up and fog-bound. I am going through my notebook from that last trip to Gaza. A fortnight later, the war started. Bearing in mind what is happening now, it is interesting to see what was being said then.

'Quick getaway'

I sat with Mahmoud Zahar, who is considered the most influential Hamas political leader in Gaza, at his home in a big reception room, about the size of a tennis court. I'll very surprised if it is still standing. It was furnished with chairs all around the walls, in the typical local style, but it had a big garage door at one end. Two 4x4s were parked next to it, inside the room. He said it was in case the Israelis were coming and he needed a quick getaway. They were parked nose in, so they would have to reverse out. Dr Zahar had just heard on the BBC that Barack Obama had a plan to visit a Muslim country early in his term. He seemed pleased. "Barack HUSSEIN Obama," he said, pronouncing the President-elect's name with relish. "Change in the US is good for the Palestinian people, not because of Obama, but because of the absence of Bush... If he's going to start reconciliation then it's good for America... But Obama will be a friend of Israel... We can't expect an angel from the US side. He'll be under the control of the Zionist lobby." Police from the rival Palestinian faction Fatah were arresting Hamas people in the West Bank and confiscating weapons. Dr Zahar wasn't bothered. "The arrests aren't damaging... Weapons are cheap but our people are precious - and they haven't changed their minds."

'Magic word'

He was just as dismissive about Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister ("a criminal"), Israeli president Shimon Peres ("a big liar") Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister of the rival Palestinian government in Ramallah ("he's in London getting his latest orders") - and rude, too, about Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president ("he won't get a state, he's just a bodyguard for Israel".) But Dr Zahar didn't want to talk much about current events. Instead he went to a globe on a table nearby, and showed me how one day an Islamic empire would stretch from Nigeria to Indonesia. "Identity is the magic word" he said. "Religion gives you identity... And resistance is a sense of belief... Our dignity was deeply affected by the establishment of Israel." What about the future? "We'd accept a state in the West Bank and Gaza, without recognising Israel." Then I went to see the Hamas political advisor Ahmed Yousef in his office in a scruffy concrete building, about half a dozen stories high. A signboard propped on the dusty ground outside said it was the foreign ministry.

'Nothing to lose'

Since an Israeli raid into Gaza on 4 November tension had been very high, and Hamas had resumed rocketing Israel. A Grad rocket had been fired at Ashkelon, the Israeli town north of Gaza. "It was just a signal, aimed at the outskirts." Would Israel invade? "We don't care. We have nothing to lose. People are dying already because of a lack of supplies. It's not just military action that kills." What about renewing the ceasefire? "There's no decision yet, we're consulting about what will happen on 19 December." What sort of ceasefire is it if you're still under siege? "If Israel had good intentions about the ceasefire it would have been serious about easing the tension... Their generals show toughness by keeping the killing cycle going. The guy with more Palestinian blood on his hands has a better chance to win." What about Obama? "We've heard talk of change and we hope Middle East policy will be changed. Let's wait and see. We'd like someone to take the Palestinian issue seriously. Remember the hare and the tortoise. He needs to be the tortoise, not the hare. Don't leave it to the end." Why should Obama get involved? "If the US doesn't change, nothing will change, because the Palestinian question is the mother of all conflict, and if there is no change, anti-American sentiment should increase.... Israel isn't interested in peace, just in managing the conflict." It was a Friday, so the ministry was almost empty. Ahmed Yousef is an engaging man. He likes talking about the books he's written and the ones he's working on. As I left the foreign ministry I saw they still hadn't fixed a bullet hole in the front door, which I assumed had been there since the shoot-outs between Hamas and Fatah in the summer of 2007. It would have been a waste of time anyway. A couple of days into the war, Israel destroyed the building with a very big bomb.

Degrees of danger

I got back into the BBC armoured vehicle with Hamada Abu Qammar, who is one of our Gaza producers. You may have heard him on the BBC from Gaza in the last two weeks. As the correspondents can't get in, Hamada and his colleague Rushdi Abu Alouf are on broadcasting duties. Hamada is a charming guy who taught English at a UN school before he turned to journalism. Early in the war, he told me he had evacuated his family from their home in a refugee camp. It turned out they had moved a few hundred yards. In Gaza, where it is now about degrees of danger since there's nowhere safe, every yard counts.

Bleak prospects

The last appointment, a quick one as I had to get back to the Erez crossing before it closed, was with John Ging. He runs the Gaza operations of Unrwa, the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees. John is a dedicated and intense Irishman. He was bleak about the prospects for Gaza, and seething with frustration about Israel's behaviour during the five-month ceasefire. It didn't let Unrwa fill up its warehouses. "We were not allowed to reconstitute our stocks during the ceasefire... That belies the Israeli argument about security. They didn't allow stocks in when the ceasefire was on." "The Israelis were fully informed of the situation. For five months we were not allowed to reconstitute our reserves. So when the ceasefire broke down we ran out of food for the 750,000 who depend on us. Access for food and medicine is problematic " "We tell the Palestinians that rockets are illegal and bad. Then we have five months without rockets and things don't improve. It plays into the hands of extremists." He groped for a positive. In early December, despite the rocket fire that followed the 4 November Israeli raid there were still hopes in Gaza that the ceasefire could be revived. "The good news is that most people here support the return of the ceasefire. So we're hopeful we will be able to return to it and have no rockets." He sounded as if he was trying to convince himself more than me. John ran through the litany of misery that existed in Gaza before the Israeli offensive. Of course it is many times worse now. "There's one million on food aid, including 750,000 refugees. 80% are below the poverty line, meaning they live on less than $2 a day. Almost 100,000 jobs have gone in the last 18 months, since the total Israeli embargo came in. [Because that included most building materials] $93m of Unrwa construction projects, medical centres, houses for refugees, all are stopped. 3,200 out of 3,500 Gaza businesses have gone down in the siege." "There's no ray of sunlight. It's all going in the wrong direction. It's all well documented and predictable." "The Quartet [of the US, UN, Russia and the EU] said a new approach was needed for Gaza. In fact there are even stricter sanctions." John Ging was out of Gaza when Israel attacked on 27 December. He managed to get back into Gaza a few days later. He is back at work, supervising Unrwa's operations. Ahmed Yousef finally replied to one of my messages a few days ago. But since then I haven't been able to get through to him. Mahmoud Zahar made a broadcast this week from wherever he's hiding in Gaza. He said victory was coming, and that the death and hardship inflicted by Israel was a 'tax' on Palestinian resistance.

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