Saturday, December 27, 2008

Palestine News Bulletin: Over 200 Killed by Israeli Aerial Bombardments in Gaza; Massacres Condemned Around the World

Saturday, December 27, 2008
19:22 Mecca time, 16:22 GMT

Scores dead in Israeli raid on Gaza

Residents carried a bodied out of the Bureij refugee camp

At least 195 Palestinians, including women and children, have been killed in an Israeli aerial bombardment on Hamas security installations.

Israel launched air attacks across the besieged Gaza Strip on Saturday, threatening that further operations would be carried out.

Emergency services said that at least 300 people had been wounded.

Witnesses reported heavy damage as at least 30 missiles were fired.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, said that the operation would not be short.

"The operation will go on and be intensified as long as necessary," he said on Saturday.

An Israeli military spokesman added that any "Hamas target is a target".

As dusk fell, Israel continued to bomb the strip, firing on a metal foundry in the south.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, condemned the attack and demanded an immediate cessation.

Hours after the Israeli assault, Gaza fighters fired home-made rockets into southern Israel, heeding calls by Hamas and other affiliated Palestinian groups to avenge the attacks, unprecedented in their scale.

One Israeli was killed in the rocket fire, medics said.

Taher al-Noono, a Hamas spokesman, described Israel's operation as a "massacre", adding: "However, our resolve cannot be dented and cannot be shaken. We will continue our struggle with absolute strength and steadfastness."

Islam Shahwan, a Hamas police spokesman, said a police graduation ceremony in Gaza City was struck by Israel. Among those killed was Tawfiq Jabber, the Gaza chief of police.

The Hamas-run interior ministry said all security compounds in the Strip had been destroyed.

Gaza is densely populated. Its 1.5 million residents area already experiencing shortages in medicine, power and basic supplies due to 18 months of an Israeli blockade.

'War crimes'

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of Fatah, condemned the "aggression" in Gaza.

Mousa Abu Morzouz, the deputy leader of Hamas, told Al Jazeera: "Until now the aggression didn't stop ... they are targeting all the police headquarters and offices.

"We will defend our people, we will retaliate against this aggression ... our military will retaliate."

Morzouz called on the world's most powerful nations to condemn the attacks: "Nobody in this world can accept what happened and the Israeli aggression ... [we expect] the international community to stand against this and say that it is not acceptable."

Mustafa Barghouthi, the former Palestinian information minister, said: "This is not an attack on the Hamas. It is an attack on the whole population and the free will of the people of Gaza."

He accused Israel of committing "war crimes" and demanded that Abbas and his government stop all relations with Israel.

'Only just beginning'

The Israel army released a statement saying "terrorist installations" were hit and that all Israeli pilots returned unharmed.

The operation against the Hamas is "only just beginning," Avi Benayahu, an Israeli military spokesman said.

The air raids follow the decision by the Israeli security cabinet to increase reprisals for cross-border rocket attacks against Israel, and the breakdown of a six-month-old Israel-Hamas truce earlier this month.

The ceasefire expired on December 19, with Hamas arguing that Israel had violated the truce by preventing vital food and medical supplies into the Strip.

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said: "A series of explosions were heard over Gaza City.

"From where we are, there are at least seven different clouds of smoke from the strikes. We are seeing some casualties being evacuated in cars."

Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip to receive injured people, Egyptian officials said. Ambulances have been sent to the crossing and two Egyptian hospitals emptied to take in the wounded.

Weakened security services

Mohyeldin said that Hamas, which rule the Gaza Strip, was being held responsible by Israel for any attacks from the territory into Israel, even if they are undertaken by other Palestinian factions.

However, officials of the deposed government in Gaza which maintains law and order, while being Hamas member in the main, are separate from the group's military wing and other factions responsible for attacks into Israel.

"There is within Gaza a functioning ministry of interior that has security services, traffic control, emergency medical services," Mohyeldin reported.

"Those workers are seen as employees of the government in Gaza. So now that many of these installations have been targeted, it will have an immediate impact in terms of the law and order structure here in Gaza."

Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said that Israel's decision to strike at this moment was down to Hamas withdrawing from the ceasefire and the intensified rocket fire coming from the Gaza Strip in recent days.

"In one day [in the past week] we saw 80 rockets ... which is a huge upsurge," she said.

Hamas won control of the Palestinian Legislative Council in elections in January 2005. The international community refused to accept a Hamas-led government, demanding that the faction recognise Israel and renounce violence. Economic sanctions by the EU and US followed.

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after bloody street battles against its rival, the Fatah movement.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Saturday, December 27, 2008
18:13 Mecca time, 15:13 GMT

Protests call for Palestinian unity

In Hebron, people took to the streets in anguish over the Israeli attack

Palestinians in the West Bank have demonstrated for unity between the rival factions, Fatah and Hamas, after Israeli air attacks on the Gaza Strip killed more than 155 people and wounded 200 others.

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the centre of Ramallah in the West Bank on Saturday, some carrying banners reading: "We will not forget you, Gaza."

The Israeli bombardment also sparked rallies across the Arab world, including in Amman, the capital of Jordan, and Damascus in Syria.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese movement which fought a 33-day war against Israel in the summer of 2006, called for a demonstration in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, later on Saturday.

Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in neighbouring Jordan, said: "This is probably one of the most violent Israeli air campaigns against Gaza."

"Politically speaking, this is devastating... We can see people in Ramallah coming out on the streets, calling on the leaderships in the Palestinian territories to unite, and set aside their differences knowing that that will be difficult, as it has been for the past year and a half.

"It will certainly be very embarrassing for Mahmoud Abbas [the Palestinian president], who is engaged in a peace process with Israel, trying to convince a very sceptical public that a political process with Israel can yield results while these bombs are raining on Gaza.

"Yasser Abed, an adviser to Abbas speaking in the West Bank said: "In this moment we express our solidarity with all the victims of this aggression.

"And we call for an immediate halt and ending of this aggression against the Gaza Strip.

"Our leadership and our government are taking measures now in order to help the victims of the aggression."

Abbas said he was in "urgent contact" with numerous countries over the raids.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister in the West Bank, said: "I strongly condemn the Israeli military attack on the Gaza Strip and demand its immediate end.

"I am making a series of calls to try to stop the Israeli attack and have called an emergency cabinet meeting."

The meeting is to be held at 1300GMT in Ramallah.

The Palestinian ministry of health in Ramallah called on its employees to immediately head to government hospitals in the Gaza Strip to help, following statements from Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, saying that the operation "will last as long as necessary".

Regional condemnation

Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, said that Arab foreign ministers would be meeting in the Egyptian capital either on Sunday or Monday to take a common position on the raids.

Moussa told reporters that Libya, the only Arab country on the UN Security Council, would also be seeking an urgent meeting of the council.

"It will take a joint Arab position on what is happening and at the same time agree on the steps to be taken," he said.

Egypt condemned Israel's raids and said it would keep trying to restore a truce between Israel and Gaza.

A presidential statement quoted by the MENA news agency said Egypt held Israel responsible for the deaths and injuries that result from the raids.

"Egypt will continue its contacts to prepare an atmosphere conducive to restoring the period of calm and achieving reconciliation between the Palestinian groups."

Ahmed Abu Ghait, the Egyptian foreign minister, summoned the Israeli ambassador to express Egypt's rejection to the attacks.

Egypt called publicly for restraint by both sides on Thursday when Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, came to Cairo for talks with Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

International condemnation

Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, is also calling for an immediate ceasefire.

"We are very concerned at the events in Gaza," he said. "We call for an immediate ceasefire and urge everybody to exert maximum restraint."

For his part, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, called for an immediate halt to the "escalation".

"The President of the Republic ... strongly condemns the irresponsible provocations which led to this situation as well as the disproportionate use of force," the Elysee Palace said.

The statement added that there was "no military solution in Gaza" and called for the "conclusion of a lasting truce".

A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said: "Russia believes it is necessary to halt immediately the large-scale acts of force against the Gaza Strip, which have already caused considerable victims and suffering amongst the Palestinian population.

"At the same time, we call on the leadership of Hamas to stop firing rocket on Israeli territory," it said, adding that the most important priority now was for the parties to restore a truce.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, said: "Today is a holocaust and a massacre day, that Tzipi Livni had publicly campaigned on the regional and international level so she can commit to this Holocaust and this massacre.

"This is a group massacre for our Palestinian people in Gaza."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Massive Israeli air raids on Gaza

Israeli F-16 bombers have pounded key targets across the Gaza Strip, killing at least 195 people, medics say.

Gaza officials and the Hamas militant group said more than 300 others were hurt as missiles hit security compounds and militant bases.

The strikes, the most intense Israeli attacks on Gaza for decades, come days after a truce with Hamas expired.

Israel said it was responding to an escalation in rocket attacks from Gaza and would bomb "as long as necessary".

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said "it won't be easy and it won't be short".

"There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight," he said, quoted by Reuters.

Palestinian militants frequently fire rockets against Israeli towns from inside the Gaza Strip; large numbers of rocket and mortar shells have been fired at Israel in recent days.

In a statement, Israel's military said it targeted "Hamas terror operatives" as well as training camps and weapons storage warehouses.

A Hamas police spokesman, Islam Shahwan, said one of the raids targeted a police compound in Gaza City where a graduation ceremony for new personnel was taking place.

At least a dozen bodies of men in black uniforms were photographed at the Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City.

Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni defended the air raids, saying Israel had "no choice". "We're doing what we need to do to defend our citizens," she said in a television broadcast.

Israel hit targets across Gaza, striking in the territory's main population centres, including Gaza City in the north and the southern towns of Khan Younis and Rafah.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - whose Fatah faction was ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007 - condemned the attacks and called for restraint.

But Hamas quickly vowed to carry out revenge attacks on Israel in response to the air strikes, firing Qassam rockets into Israeli territory as an immediate reply.

At least one Israeli was killed by a rocket strike in the town of Netivot, doctors said.

"Hamas will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood," spokesman Fawzi Barhoum was reported as saying.

Israel also stood firm, saying operations "will continue, will be expanded, and will deepen if necessary".

It is the worst attack in Gaza since 1967 in terms of the number of Palestinian casualties, a senior analyst told the BBC in Jerusalem.

The air strikes come amid rumours that an Israeli ground operation is imminent.

Calls for ceasefire

International reaction was swift and expressed concern, with many world leaders calling for calm and an immediate ceasefire.

A White House spokesman said the United States "urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza".

"Hamas' continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop," the spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, added.

The UK Foreign Office said: "We urge maximum restraint to avoid further civilian casualties."

The French presidency of the EU meanwhile called for an immediate halt to the shooting by both sides.

At least 30 missiles were fired by F-16 fighter bombers. Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that some 60 warplanes took part in the first wave of air strikes.

Hamas said all of its security compounds in Gaza were destroyed by the air strikes, which Israel said hit some 40 targets across the territory.

Mosques issued urgent appeals for people to donate blood and Hamas sources told the BBC's Rushdi Abou Alouf in Gaza that hospitals were soon full.

Egypt opened its border crossing to the Gaza Strip at Rafah to absorb and treat some of those injured in the south of the territory.

Most of the dead and injured were said to be in Gaza City, where Hamas's main security compound was destroyed. The head of Gaza's police forces, Tawfik Jaber, was reportedly among those killed.

Images from the targeted areas showed dead and injured Palestinians, burning and destroyed buildings, and scenes of panic and chaos on Gaza's crowded streets.

Residents spoke of children heading to and from school at the time of the attacks, and there were fears of civilian casualties.

Reuters news agency said at least 20 people were thought to have died in Khan Younis.

Israeli security officials have been briefing about the possibility of a new offensive into Gaza for some days now, says the BBC's Paul Wood, in Jerusalem.

But most reports centred on the possibility of a ground offensive, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not expected to authorise any operation until Sunday at the earliest.

Although a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel was agreed earlier this year, it was regularly under strain and was allowed to lapse when it expired this month.

Hamas blamed Israel for the end of the ceasefire, saying it had not respected its terms, including the lifting of the blockade under which little more than humanitarian aid has been allowed into Gaza.

Israel said it initially began a staged easing of the blockade, but this was halted when Hamas failed to fulfil what Israel says were agreed conditions, including ending all rocket fire and halting weapons smuggling.

Israel says the blockade - in place since Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007 - is needed to isolate Hamas and stop it and other militants from firing rockets across the border at Israeli towns.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/12/27 14:58:09 GMT

Eyewitness: Chaos in Gaza

The BBC's Rushdi Aboualouf in the Gaza Strip described the chaos as Israeli warplanes fired missiles at Hamas targets, killing at least 155 Palestinians.

Israeli planes are still flying over Gaza and they have just targeted another Hamas [security] compound in the middle of the Gaza Strip, in a place called Khan Younis.

We can see from our office here in Gaza, in the middle of Gaza City, ambulances are still evacuating the injured from buildings and school kids are trying to find secure places.

People who were going to their work were turned back and went home, and most of the residents in Gaza have been ordered by the Ministry of Health to stay indoors.

The mosques in Gaza are calling the people here to go to the hospitals and to donate blood. There is no room in the hospitals as far as we've heard from Hamas sources to treat the people.

No safe places

It's a very bad situation... There were Israeli aeroplanes everywhere, hitting everywhere. You could see smoke from north to south, from west to east. The people are really in a panic. The main object for the people now is to find a secure place to secure their family.

It's hard to find a secure place in Gaza. Gaza has no shelters, it has no safe places. The Hamas security compounds are in the middle of the city - it's not the kind of place where you see compounds outside the cities.

I have witnessed one of the compounds - which is 20m away from my house - I was standing on the balcony and I have seen the Israeli airplanes hitting the place.

Some of my balcony was damaged and my kid was injured and it's a very, very serious situation here in Gaza, the people can't do anything except stay indoors.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/12/27 15:01:45 GMT

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