Thursday, January 15, 2009

Palestine News Bulletin: Israelis Shell Hospitals and United Nations Headquarters in Gaza

Thursday, January 15, 2009
22:02 Mecca time, 19:02 GMT

Israelis shell hospitals and UN HQ

Israel's bombing of the UN compound in Gaza has outraged UN chief Ban Ki-moon

Three hospitals and a UN compound have been bombed by Israel as troops continue to advance into the densely-populated Gaza City.

Around 500 people were sheltering in the Al-Quds hospital in the city's southwestern Tal Al-Hawa district when it was bombed by Israeli jets and set ablaze on Thursday morning.

Hospital officials said the fire was sparked by a "phosphorus shell".

"We have been able to control the fire in the hospital but not in the administrative building," one hospital official said.

"We hope that the flames don't spread again to the wings of the hospital."

Two hospitals east of Gaza City were also hit by Israeli shells as Gazans fled tanks advancing into the city.

It was no immediately clear if any casualties following the raids.

UN fire 'still raging'

The Israelis also bombed a UN compound in Gaza City, setting fire to warehouses of badly-needed food and medical aid and prompting international outrage.

Around 700 Palestinians were sheltering in the UN complex at the time of the strikes which left two civilians and three staff members injured.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), said fires were still raging hours after the attack and "tens of millions of dollars worth of aid" had been destroyed.

John Ging, the director of Unrwa operations in the Strip, also accused the Israelis of using phosphorus shells.

"They are phosphorus fires so they are extremely difficult to put out because, if you put water on, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning," he said.

Israel insists all weapons used in the conflict comply with international law.

Unrwa officials said they would evacuate the complex.

'Investigation needed'

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, justified shelling the UN headquarters claiming armed Palestinians within it had fired at Israeli troops first.

"It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place … but the consequences were very sad and I apologise for it," he said.

However, Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for Unrwa, robustly denied that Palestinian fighters were among refugees sheltering there.

"At no stage during the fighting today did any Israeli official pick up the phone and tell us there were militants in our compound.

"We always take action against militants ... there were no militants in our compound and now they [the Israelis] are changing their story, saying militants were 'in the vicinity'," he said.

Gunness called for a "proper investigation" into the incident.

Louis Michel, the European Aid Commissioner, also condemned the bombing of the UN complex, branding it "unacceptable".

"I am deeply shocked and dismayed to learn of this incident ... I have made it very clear that all sides must respect international humanitarian law.

"It is unacceptable that the UN headquarters in Gaza has been struck by Israeli artillery fire," he said.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, strongly condemned the incident and demanded a full explanation from Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, during talks held on Thursday in Tel Aviv.

Ban said Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, had apologised for the attack describing it as a "grave mistake".

A Red Crescent office near Gaza City and the main mosque in the southern city of Rafah were also shelled as the Israelis pushed deeper into the Strip.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Thursday, January 15, 2009
17:29 Mecca time, 14:29 GMT

Children 'paying price of Gaza war'

More than 300 children are among the hundreds of Palestinians killed in Israel's offensive

Children are bearing the brunt of Israel's war on the Gaza Strip, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has said.

More than 300 children have been killed and hundreds more wounded in Israel's aerial and ground assault, Ann Veneman, Unicef's executive director, said in a statement released on Wedneday.

She said: "Each day more children are being hurt, their small bodies wounded, their young lives shattered. This is tragic. This is unacceptable.

"They are bearing the brunt of a conflict which is not theirs.

"As fighting reaches the heart of heavily populated urban areas, the impact of lethal weapons will carry an even heavier toll on children."

Lost childhood

Veneman said the war and bloodshed in Gaza would cause long-term psychological damage to children.

"The crisis in Gaza is singular in that children and their families have nowhere to escape, no refuge. The very thought of being trapped in a closed area is disturbing for adults in peace times," she said.

"What then goes through the mind of a child who is trapped in such relentless violence?"

Israel has said that it is trying to minimise civilian casualties as it targets Hamas fighters and their infrastructure, but Palestinian children are being subjected to harrowing experiences.

"I saw the soldier standing next to the shop. I looked for my mum and then he shot me. One bullet him my hand and the other went through my back and out through my stomach," Samar, a young girl, told Al Jazeera while recovering from her wounds at a Gaza hospital.

Amal, another young girl, wailed: "We have nothing to do with this, we don't fire rockets, we don't know what this war is about."

More than 40,000 pregnant women and their unborn children were also believed to be at risk because Gaza's overwhelmed hospitals were unable to take them in.


Dr Walid Sarhan, a Jordanian psychiatrist, said that if nothing is done to help traumatised children Gaza would begin to see advanced cases of psychiatric problems.

"The main one would be post-traumatic stress disorder, which is expected to rise 60 or 70 per cent among children," he said.

"Also they will have behavioural and emotional problems. They will have difficulties returning to school, going on to achieve in school, and this will not be in small numbers."

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said that thousands of children in southern Israel were also suffering because of Palestinian rocket fire.

"Two weeks before this crisis started I went down south with my prime minister, Mr Olmert ... and he was given letters from fourth graders I believe, children who are nine and 10-years-old, who their entire lives have been on the incoming end of these Hamas rockets," he told Al Jazeera.

"You have a whole generation of Israeli children who unfortunately suffering similar trauma."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Thursday, January 15, 2009
22:20 Mecca time, 19:20 GMT

Israeli jets kill Hamas leader

Siam was killed in an Israeli air raid along with one of his sons and a brother

One of Hamas's senior leaders has been killed in an Israeli air raid in Gaza, al-Quds television has reported.

Said Siam, who was the interior minister in Hamas’s government, was killed along with one of his sons and a brother in an air raid in Jabalya refugee camp on Thursday.

"Leader Said Siam, his son [Mohammed] and his brother fell as martyrs in Gaza," al-Quds, a Hamas TV station based in Beirut, reported.

Hamas officials confirmed the three died in an Israeli air attack on a house rented by Siam's brother.

"The blood of Siam will be a curse on the Zionist entity," Mohammed Nazzal, a Hamas official, told Al Jazeera.

Top leader

Siam is considered to be among Hamas's top five leaders in Gaza.

As interior minister in Hamas's government in Gaza, he had been in charge of 13,000 Hamas police and security men, many of whom are actively involved in fighting Israel.

The Israeli military confirmed it carried out the raid.

"In a joint operation of the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] and the Shin Beth [internal security] a short while ago, jets attacked a building in Gaza while Said Siam was inside with his brother Iyad and a third person," an army spokeswoman said.

"We identified hitting the target."

A deputy from a Gaza constituency, Siam was named Hamas interior minister in 2006 after Hamas won a majority in parliamentary elections.

Born in the Beach refugee camp in Gaza City in 1959, he was a teacher until 2003, during which time he was also active in politics.

He was arrested four times during the first intifada from 1987 to 1993.

He was expelled by Israel in 1992 to southern Lebanon, and upon his return was arrested by Palestinian security forces.

Siam was close to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas who was also killed by an Israeli air strike, and Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal, whom he accompanied on a visit to Moscow.

Before Thursday's strike, the most senior Hamas figure Israel had killed since launching its deadly offensive on Gaza was Nizar Rayyan, who was killed along with his four wives and 13 children in an Israeli air strike on his house.

Source: Agencies

Thursday, January 15, 2009
22:35 Mecca time, 19:35 GMT

UN president: Gaza a 'burning hell'

Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann has been a vocal critic of the Israeli offensive

The president of the United Nations has accused Israel of violating international law with its war on Gaza in which almost 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, nearly half of them civilians.

"Gaza is ablaze. It has been turned into a burning hell," Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann told an emergency session of the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday.

He said Israel's offensive was "a war against a helpless, defenceless and imprisoned people" and accused Israel of carrying out attacks on civilian targets.

"The violations of international law inherent in the Gaza assault have been well documented: collective punishment, disproportionate military force [and] attacks on civilian targets, including homes, mosques, universities, schools.

Gaza war 'genocide'

An Israeli delegate had sought to block the session on procedural grounds by arguing that under the UN charter the 192-member assembly could not rule on a matter already being tackled by the Security Council, but the move was dismissed.

D'Escoto noted that the Security Council last week had called for a Gaza ceasefire leading to the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

Israel has continued its offensive regardless of the resolution which was also rejected by Hamas.

D'Escoto, a former Nicaraguan foreign minister, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that Israel's killings of Palestinians in Gaza amounted to "genocide".

Almost 1,100 Palestinians have been killed during Israel's Gaza offensive, which Israel says is to stop Palestinian rocketfire coming from Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Thursday, January 15, 2009
11:23 Mecca time, 08:23 GMT

Gaza: The endless cycle of trauma

By Sandy Tolan, Middle East analyst

Some Palestinians still hold keys to their homes in villages that are now part of Israel, which they were forced to leave during the Nakba that marked the formation of Israel

The Israeli bombs and rockets streaking through the skies of Gaza trace not only a path of death and terror for Palestinians in 2009, they also outline the smoke trails of traumas past, from the Nakba, or 'catastrophe,' in 1948 to the 1967 war; from the Lebanon invasions, to the 2002 assault on Jenin. All are echoes of today's calamity of US-made missiles and mortars raining down on Gazans.

Watching history repeat itself is, of course, most horrifying for the people through whose roofs the missiles are falling, whose children are dying. For the outsider, peering in from a safe perch, it is merely surreal.

We look on as Israel replays the tape-loop of its brutal and tragic follies. Israel has shown again and again that, rather than vanquishing its enemies, it makes new ones while strengthening old ones.

Many commentators have invoked 2006 and Israel's invasion of Lebanon, when, in trying to destroy Hezbollah, it made it stronger. But this is only a relatively recent example.

'My enemy's enemy'

Consider early 1988, near the beginning of the First Intifada, when Israel, trying to weaken Yasser Arafat, the late PLO leader, invoked the ill-fated strategy known as "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

In trying to marginalise the exiled Arafat and his Tunis cadre, Israel helped seed the growth of a fledgling Hamas in Gaza.

Or recall March 1968, when Israeli infantry, tanks, paratroopers, and armoured brigades - 15,000 soldiers in all - moved east across the Jordan River to attack the village of Karama. Though, technically, the Israelis won a military victory, they encountered far stiffer resistance than expected, losing 28 soldiers.

At the centre of the heroic Palestinian battle of Karama was the man who would emerge strongest from the fight: Yasser Arafat. The biggest loser was the pro-Western "moderate," King Hussein of Jordan, who in the wake of the battle was forced to declare, no doubt to the alarm of Israel, "we are all fedayeen now."

Or, we can revisit the pre-dawn of November 13, 1966, when Israeli planes, tanks and troops attacked the West Bank village of Samu, blowing up dozens of houses and killing 21 Jordanian soldiers.

The attack deepened anger on the 'Arab Street' against Israel and its Western benefactors, and badly weakened King Hussein, who imposed martial law. "The monarchy itself is in jeopardy," American officials in Amman cabled Washington.

Largely as a result of the attack, the Jordanian king was forced into a pan-Arab alliance with his arch-rival, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president. The 11th-hour pact helped seal the fate of the 1967 war, and the 41-year occupation whose echoes can be heard in the exploding shells of Gaza.

US response

Yet it is worth considering the American response to Israel's Samu raid for the lessons it contains for US policymakers today. For although the US sided with Israel, many American officials were working hard behind the scenes to prevent war, and US officials, unlike those of the outgoing and incoming American administrations today, were furious at Israel.

The "3000-man raid with tanks and planes was all out of proportion to the provocation," wrote Walt Rostow, the national security adviser, in a memo to Lyndon Johnson, the then-US president.

"They've undercut Hussein… It makes even the moderate Arabs feel fatalistically that there is nothing they can do to get along with the Israelis no matter how hard they try."

When Levi Eshkol, the Israeli prime minister, wrote to Johnson for American support "in this difficult hour for us," the president ignored him, instead writing a note of sympathy to King Hussein, expressing his "sense of sorrow and concern … words of sympathy are small comfort when lives have been needlessly destroyed".

Then, in words scarcely imaginable for a US president today, Johnson added: "My disapproval of this action has been made known to the government of Israel in the strongest terms."

In the end, of course, the US, distracted by Vietnam and in a Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union, backed Israel in the Six Day War, giving it a tacit green light for the surprise attack on Egypt in June 1967. (When Meir Amit, the then-head of the Israeli intelligency agency Mossad, visited Robert McNamara in the Pentagon, he told the inquiring defence secretary that the war would take "seven days".)

Lessons for Obama

Yet US officials, before acquiescing to Israel in the final days before war, actually fought to prevent it, and it is there, in that lost moment, that the lessons lie for Barack Obama, the incoming US president.

Similar to (but far worse than) the Samu raid of 1966, Israel now wages a war whose destruction is "all out of proportion to the provocation."

Like the days leading up to the Six Day War, hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets, with mass protests in Cairo, Beirut, Amman, Doha, Paris, Athens, Istanbul, Sydney and other international capitals.

These genuine expressions of fury, combined with wide-ranging condemnations from international leaders, and increasing outrage from a vocal minority of Israelis, do not bode well for the US or Israeli governments.

Unlike 42 years ago, however, no US president, incoming or outgoing, is willing to criticise Israel.

Obama's tepid comment - "the loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern" - does not qualify.

Worse, his statement in Sderot last July - "If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that" - has been used as another green light by Israeli military politicians whose prime ministerial ambitions are a key factor underlying the assault on Gaza.

Hillary Clinton's declaration, during her senate confirmation hearings on Tuesday, January 13, 2008, that "the president-elect and I understand and are deeply sympathetic to Israel's desire to defend itself under the current conditions," hardly points to a visionary change in US policy.

Yet if Obama wishes to preserve the truest hopes inherent in his election - that his presidency would stand for real change; that his internationalist view of the world would translate into wisdom and compassion for people other than the most powerful - he must be willing to transform US dealings in a region where the phrase "honest broker" has become a parlour joke.

For the US to restore its credibility, Obama must send clear signals that Israeli impunity cannot continue. He needs to speak hard truths to an old friend, pointing out the Jewish state's history of making its enemies stronger.

Strengthening Hamas

Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, has said Israel has created resistance.

And this, beyond the needless deaths, may be the ultimate result of the current war on Gaza. Israel, despite its stated goal of stopping Hamas' rocket attacks, has simply not done so. Despite the latest wave of assassination by bombing, Israel's attempts to destroy Hamas seem to be going the route of Lebanon, 2006.

"What is the strategic purpose behind the present fighting?" asks the normally staid Anthony Cordesman in a commentary for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC.

"Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal or at least one it can credibly achieve? … It is also far from clear that the tactical gains are worth the political and strategic cost to Israel. At least to date, the reporting from within Gaza indicates that each new Israeli air strike or advance on the ground has increased popular support for Hamas and anger against Israel in Gaza. The same is true in the West Bank and the Islamic world."

Or, as Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, declared to Israel last weekend, "you have created resistance in every household."

Thus the horrible chapter called "Gaza 2009" fits snugly into Israel's book of outsized assaults on Palestinian civilians. It seems it will ever be so, until a US president steps forward with the guts and vision to change the game.

Sandy Tolan is associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, and author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera

Thursday, January 15, 2009
17:56 Mecca time, 14:56 GMT

Gaza diary: To die with hope

By Mohammed Ali in Gaza City

As the death toll from Israel's war on Gaza continues to climb, Mohammed Ali, an advocacy and media researcher for Oxfam who lives in Gaza City, will be keeping a diary of his feelings and experiences.

This morning, I heard people chanting outside, I wondered what it was, and then, the lights came on - the electricity had come back on; hurrah!

I immediately turned on the television, charged my phone, checked emails. For a moment, I felt somewhat liberated. These things that we often take for granted have become so precious of late.

Solidarity and trust

We have no clean water left. Our water tank is empty. My father could not turn away the increasing amount of people knocking at our door with empty jerry cans in hand. He did not realise how much water he had given out until it was too late.

Shops are running out of clean water; we were not able to find any in our neighbourhood. We can use the untreated water but we should really boil it first to avoid getting sick, but we face another obstacle; we have very little gas left.

We will just have to drink the unsterilised water so that we can save the rest of the gas for cooking food. But, if you have never cooked with a gas burner, it makes the food taste of gasoline, the coffee taste of gasoline, we now even smell of gasoline.

I received a call from a good friend in Jabaliya, he was telling me how awful life has become for his family; sonic booms from F-16 fighter planes constantly shake his home - there is no chance any of his six children and wife are getting any sleep.

His sister's home has already been evacuated and he wants to leave as soon as he can. He has a small bag packed and ready to go.

I told him to bring his family and to stay with us - I am expecting him to arrive at any moment.

The news is getting more and more horrific as the situation here deteriorates. The latest report, I saw, was of a child clutching on to her dead parent's bodies for four days before anyone was able to come to her rescue, dogs are starting to eat the corpses that no one has been able to bury.

This reality does not seem to be reaching some parts of the world. Is it censored because people cannot cope with the truth of what is happening to us? If the truth did get out, would it make a difference?

Fortunately, we have a lot of solidarity and trust in our community, we share what we have - I guess this is why we have just about managed to feed ourselves.

Some shopkeepers are allowing people to buy food on credit; people's debts are quickly mounting up. But solidarity and trust will not feed us now that food - and everything else it seems - is running out.

Keeping hope alive

I applied for a scholarship in the UK several months ago. I was expecting to find out in early January whether or not my application was successful.

I have been waiting impatiently for days. I could not wait any longer so I finally called the British Council; I wanted to know the outcome to put my mind at rest.

They told me that they would call back in two minutes. During those two minutes I almost stopped breathing - this scholarship is the only hope I have at the moment for a better life.

The lady called back and said: "I am afraid we do not have an answer yet for you." To which I responded: "Please be honest with me; is it that you really do not have an answer or that you do not want to give me bad news at this point in time?"

The possibility of going to the UK is giving me the hope I need to live. My wife thinks I am crazy, as I talk to her as if we are definitely going; I describe the friends we will have, the restaurants we will go to, the walks around the parks.

At least if I die, I will die with a little hope, the hope that I will have the chance to live a better life, even if for now it is but a dream.

Source: Al Jazeera

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