Monday, December 29, 2008

Palestine News Bulletin: Gaza Braces for All-Out War; Anger Grows in Arab Streets

Monday, December 29, 2008
05:31 Mecca time, 02:31 GMT

Gaza braces for all-out war

Air raids have killed almost 300 people in the heavily-populated Gaza Strip

Residents of Gaza are bracing for an all-out war, as Israeli forces continued a massive onslaught on the heavily populated strip for a second day.

So far almost 300 people have been killed and hundreds more injured and there are growing fears of a ground attack after the Israeli army called up thousands of reservists and tanks massed along the Gaza border.

Palestinian officials said several children are among the casualties while United Nations officials in New York said nine of its staff had been killed in the attacks.

In the latest raid on Sunday night Israeli aircraft bombed the Islamic university in Gaza City, with witnesses reporting a series of explosions across the campus.

A government compound was also hit.

Israel has made no comment on the latest strikes other than to say they will press ahead with the campaign in the face of mounting international criticism.

Earlier on Sunday Israeli aircraft bombed the length of the Gaza-Egypt border, taking out tunnels used to smuggle in vital goods to the besieged strip.

Dozens of tunnels are said to criss-cross between southern Gaza and Egypt's Sinai desert, providing a lifeline to residents who are starved of basic supplies due to an 18-month-long Israeli blockade.

Avital Leibovitch, an Israeli army spokeswoman, said: "The air force just attacked over 40 tunnels found on the Gaza side of the border.

"We believe [they] were used for smuggling weapons, explosives and sometimes people," she said. "The pilots notified direct hits on these targets."

Border gunfire

Gunfire was heard close to the Egyptian border with reports suggesting that Palestinians were attempting to break through, while the aerial bombardment continued over Gaza City.

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Rafah, a town split in half by the border, said at least one person died and 42 others were injured in the strikes on the tunnels.

"It's certainly a devastating blow to the civilian population in Gaza," he said, adding that speculation the tunnels might be hit had already caused the price of fuel and other goods to soar.

At the Rafah border, Palestinian fighters traded fire with Egyptian security forces, our correspondent said.

At least one Egyptian border guard and one Palestinian youth were killed in the clashes.

Medical aid

Tensions at the crossing with Egypt, bypassing Israel, had risen during the day, with Egypt blaming Hamas for not letting wounded Palestinians through and Hamas asking for medical aid to be handed over.

A Gaza health ministry official at the border, Alaa el-Din Mohammed el-Batta, said that transporting the seriously wounded was difficult and further complicated by Israeli air assaults.

"We have 25 in very critical condition," he said. "Because of the distance, there are fears that many will die on their way to Cairo.

A security official said that an Egyptian plane with 50 doctors on board as well as medical supplies had arrived in el-Arish near the border with Gaza.

Two Qatari aircraft carrying 50 tonnes of medical supplies have been waiting at the same airport.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has ordered three plane-loads of medical aid sent to the Gaza Strip, the MENA news agency reported.

Iran says it is sending plane-loads of food to Cairo to be taken by the Egyptian Red Crescent to Gaza.

Haniya office hit

Earlier on Sunday afternoon, Israeli forces struck east of Gaza City, in Khan Yunis, and Jabaliya, in the north.

A police station and a factory were among the sites reportedly hit, after a mosque and the headquarters of al-Aqsa television were struck overnight.

The Reuters news agency said that at least one missile hit the offices of Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, but he was not in the building at the time.

Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, warned that the air raids could be followed by a ground incursion.

"We are ready for anything. If it's necessary to deploy ground forces to defend our citizens, we will do so," Barak's spokesman quoted him as saying on Sunday.

Israeli television has reported that hundreds of infantry and armoured forces were massing on the border of the territory, and on Sunday the army was given approval to call up reservists to bolster its fighting strength.

Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, rejected the Israeli government's claims that the air raids were in self-defence.

"This is a bloodbath, the bloodiest bloodbath since 1967," he told Al Jazeera. "This is an attack on the civilian population of Gaza."


Many of the dead in Saturday's attacks were police officers, including Tawfiq Jabber, the Gaza chief of police.

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, suggested that casualty figures put forward by the Palestinians were misleading and insisted that only Hamas targets had been hit.

"Hamas is using figures to attract public attention, media attention and for propaganda purposes," he told Al Jazeera.

"At the end of the day we are attacking Hamas strongholds ... No civilian targets are hit, it is very unfortunate that some civilians will be hit."

Hospitals, already suffering from shortages due to an 18-month blockade on the Gaza Strip, said they were struggling to cope with the number of injured, which includes women and children.

One of the buildings hit on Sunday was reportedly a warehouse used to supply local pharmacies with medicines.

A six-month truce between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip ended on December 19.

Israel said it began its aerial assault on Gaza in response to rocket attacks launched by Hamas fighters into the south of the country.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Sunday, December 28, 2008
23:03 Mecca time, 20:03 GMT

Arab street angry over Gaza attacks

Tens of thousands gathered in Yemen to protest against the Israeli attack

Protesters across the Middle East have held a second day of demonstrations against Israel's military assault on the Gaza Strip.

In the occupied West Bank, one protester was killed and at least two others critically injured by Israeli fire at a protest near Ramallah on Sunday.

In Yemen, tens of thousands of people gathered in and around a stadium in the capital, Sanaa, chanting anti-Israeli slogans and criticising Arab leaders for failing to act.

"How long will the silence last? Arabs wake up!" read one banner.

The demonstration was backed by the ruling party, opposition groups and other organisations.

A few members of Jordan's parliament burned the Israeli flag under the parliament dome while in session on Sunday, after calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Amman.

Action demanded

In Lebanon, hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian refugees staged a sit-in near the United Nations office in central Beirut.

The protesters held banners calling on the global body to put pressure on Israel to end the attacks that have killed more than 280 people.

The protest was organised by the Lebanese-branch of the Muslim Gamaa group, along with Hamas and other groups. Lebanon is host to more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in 12 camps across the country.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said that people were demanding more decisive action from their leaders.

"From the people we have heard very critical remarks, not only against Israel, but also against Arab governments. Many were angry at the Egyptian government, they feel they needed to do more," she said.

'Firm stand'

The Hezbollah movement, which fought a 33-day war with Israel in 2006, has condemned the attacks as a "war crime and a genocide that requires immediate action from the international community and its institutions".

In a statement, the group called on Arab countries to "take a firm stand and exert its utmost efforts against the Israeli barbarism - which is covered by the US - and the international community to stop this ongoing massacre".

The Arab League will not meet to discuss a common response to the Israeli assault until a summit in Doha, Qatar, on January 2.

Arab foreign ministers were due to hold an emergency meeting on Sunday, but the meeting was postponed until Wednesday.

Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, said the delay was because many ministers were busy in separate meetings of two Arab regional groups - the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and the Maghreb Union.

"The time worries us very much because of the delay in holding the ministerial meeting but we will not remain silent and consultations are continuing," he said.

The attack will, however, be discussed by the GCC, which on Saturday described the situation as "barbaric" and "ugly".

Government support

Meanwhile in Damascus, the capital of Syria, an estimated 5,000 people congregated in the Yusif al-Azmeh square, shouting slogans and cluttering the horizon with the flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PLFP, Hezbollah, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine.

Many were bussed in for the demonstration, suggesting that it was government orchestrated, though some protesters insisted that their attendance was not obligatory.

One lorry slowly circled the square, covered in Hamas banners and carrying masked men dressed in white with fake suicide belts. From loudspeakers, Hamas supporters called for "jihad" against Israel and led their followers in fist-pumping chants calling for "struggle in the name of God".

In other parts of the square some burned Israeli flags. Others praised Bashar al-Asad, the Syrian president, while calling on Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to take a stand against Israel.

"I came here to stand alongside my brothers in Gaza and to stand against the Israeli aggression and rape of Gaza. Israel doesn't want peace," said Ismael Balaan, a 45-year-old telecommunications worker.

Nearby, followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi populist leader opposed to the US presence in his country, dressed in the black uniform of al-Sadr’s militia, danced while chanting against the US and Israel.

"We are protesting for the oppressed people in Gaza and against the Israeli bombing that has killed women and children," said Akram al-Musawi, a black-turbaned Sadrist. "We will resist all oppressors and anyone that kills women and children whether it's in Iraq, Lebanon, or Palestine."

One Iraqi born Palestinian, who asked not to be named, was critical of the demonstration, which he believed to be government orchestrated.

"If the Syrian government really cares about Palestine why don't they let in the Palestinians stuck in the al-Tanf refugee camp on the border?" he said, referring to the Iraqi-Palestinians living in the no-mans-land between Iraq and

Protest attacked

Demonstrations also took place across Iraq.

Dozens of Palestinian refugees gathered in Baghdad's eastern Baladiyad neighbourhood chanting anti-Israeli slogans and waving messages of support for Gaza.

Dalil al-Qasoos, the Palestinian ambassador to Iraq, said: "I'd like to say to my relatives and to my people in Gaza that Gaza will remain steadfast in the face of Americans and Zionists whatever the plots and conspiracies hatched by tyrants and arrogant enemies."

In Mosul, a suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of demonstrators killing at least four people and injuring 20 others, police said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

02:53 Mecca time, 23:53 GMT

Hezbollah fighters placed on alert

Nasrallah said Israel was either taking precautionary measures or preparing for an attack

Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, has told his fighters to be on alert for any possible Israeli attack on Lebanon following raids on Gaza that have killed nearly 300 Palestinians.

Nasrallah told a gathering in Beirut's southern suburbs that the Israeli assault on Gaza was a carbon copy of its attacks on Lebanon during a 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006.

About 1,200 people died in Lebanon and 158 in Israel in that conflict.

"I have asked the brothers in the resistance in the south specifically to be present, on alert and cautious because we are facing a criminal enemy and we don't know the magnitude of the conspiracies," Nasrallah said.

Speaking via video link for security reasons, Nasrallah said Israeli forces had gone on alert along the border with Lebanon since Saturday when the attack on Gaza began.

He said the Israelis were either taking precautionary measures or preparing for an attack in an attempt to avenge its failure to destroy Hezbollah in 2006.

"We are ready to face any aggression on our land, our country or our dignity," he said.

'Blunt truth'

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Lebanon, said Nasrallah wanted to talk to the Arab people "bluntly and truthfully".

"He said this attack by Israel is part of a larger US-Israeli plan to weaken Hamas, to impose upon the Palestinians and on Hamas to surrender and accept a settlement plan on Israeli terms.

"The harshest words he had were for the Arab regimes. He said some were 'partners in this plot'.

"He quoted Israeli officials saying that the support they were receiving from Arab countries to continue their attacks on Gaza was even stronger than the support received during the time when they were attacking Hezbollah in 2006.

"What he says echoes the sentiments on the Arab street. Today in Beirut, many of the harsh words were not only against Israel, but against Arab governments, who they say have been silent, standing by, and according to some protesters, taking part."

Call to Egyptians

Nasrallah urged Egyptians in their "millions" to take to the streets to force their government to open the country's border with Gaza, where Israel is conducting deadly air raids against Palestinians.

"If the Egyptian people took to the streets by the millions, could the police kill millions of Egyptians?

"People of Egypt, you must open this border by the force of your chests," he said.

The Hezbollah chief also called for a mass rally to be held in his movement's bastion in the Shia southern suburbs of Beirut on Monday in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

"We will tell the world we are here, and terrorism and killing cannot intimidate us," he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Sunday, December 28, 2008
20:57 Mecca time, 17:57 GMT

Abbas blames Hamas for bloodshed

Abbas said Hamas were warned not to end the truce otherwise mayhem and bloodshed would follow

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has blamed Hamas for triggering Israel's deadly raids on Gaza, by not extending a six-month truce with the Jewish state.

He also blamed Hamas, which controls the coastal Gaza Strip territory, for disrupting national unity talks that could have paved the way for general and presidential elections.

"We have warned of this grave danger," he said in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday.

"We talked to them [Hamas] and we told them, 'please, we ask you, do not end the truce. Let the truce continue and not stop", so that we could have avoided what happened."

However, Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said he was "surprised" by Abbas's claim.

"He downplayed the sufferings of our people in Gaza and belittled their pains, providing justification of the holocaust and war waged by Israel," he said.

Abbas, whose Fatah movement has been at loggerheads with Hamas, said maintaining the truce could have helped the Palestinians avoid the raids, which have so far killed more than 280 people over the past two days.

Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Ramallah, reported that senior figures had supported Abbas in his call on Hamas not to abandon the truce.

She added that during an Israeli election year, a hardline position towards Palestinians has always won more seats, making the timing particularly risky for Hamas.

"Not just Abbas, but people close to the circles of decision-making in key Arab states, said that Hamas was warned that breaking the ceasefire or not keeping it would result in mayhem and bloodshed," she reported.

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said the stance at all levels of the Hamas leadership was the same: "They will remain defiant in the face of any attacks and that the movement is larger that an single assault or attack.

"That they were democratically elected by the Palestinian people, and only through the ballot box will they leave the political scene."

Hamas argues that Israel violated the truce by failing to ease its 18-month blockade on the Gaza Strip.


Egypt's foreign minister has also blamed Hamas for preventing hundreds of wounded Palestinians from entering Egypt via the Rafah crossing for treatment - the only crossing that does not border Israel.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the wounded were "barred from crossing" and he blamed "those in control of Gaza" for putting the lives of the injured at risk.

But Barhoum denied the accusations, saying that Aboul Gheit was taking advantage of the "massacre and the suffering", to "cover up the state of inaction in Egypt".

Odeh said two lines were being taken on the Palestinian-Israeli issue with Arab states divided between those supporting the Hamas line of armed resistance and not recognising Israel, and those that preferred non-confrontational options.

"More now than ever, they are divided along regional lines of competition of interests in which states are using the Palestinian paper to tug between one another and gain that regional influence.

"There is a lot of anger toward the helplessness and the realisation that in such dire times, Palestinians have been unable to set aside their political differences."

Ground operation

Dozens of tanks and personnel carriers were seen parked at several points near the boundary between Israel and Gaza on Sunday after Israel's defence minister warned it could launch a ground offensive in addition to its air bombardment.

Ehud Barak vowed to "expand and deepen" the bombing raids, unleashed in retaliation for persistent rocket fire into the south of the country from Gaza.

"If it's necessary to deploy ground forces to defend our citizens, we will do so," his spokesman quoted him as saying on Sunday.

The cabinet gave the green light to call up 6,500 reserve soldiers, a senior official told reporters after the meeting.

Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera's corespondent in Jerusalem, said: "This move gives the Israeli army a lot of leeway to commit troops to this operation as and when they see fit.

"If the fundamental objective of Israel is to change the situation on the ground, clearly they will not be able to do that from the air, they will need to commit ground troops.

"When we look at the full range of air strikes, it does seem that any ground operation would indeed be far-ranging and involve hundreds of troops."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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