Nearly 70 Palestinians Dead as 'Shoah' Imminent
The Associated Press reported on the morning of March 1 that 66 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip since February 27. The four day assault has proved one of the bloodiest acts of Israeli violence since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip almost nine months ago. Different agencies disagree over the exact number of Palestinians who have perished in the last four days as the identities and fatalities are still being collected from the devastation and debris caused by the Israeli attacks.
The precise number may be disputed but does not distract from the fact that almost 70 Palestinians have been killed with almost half of that number comprised of innocent civilians. One day into the attacks on February 28, Israeli based Human Rights organization B’Tselem released figures documenting that the 11 killed on the eve of this week’s demonstrations of Israeli aggression had brought the total number of Palestinians killed during January and February to 146. 132 of this number, according to B’Tselem, have been killed in the Gaza Strip while the remaining 14 have occurred in the West Bank. Forty-two of the deceased have perished while not participating in fighting and the final figure also consists of 11 minors. Alternatively, Palestinians were responsible for killing two Israelis in the same time frame. One was the woman who was the victim of the suicide bomb in Dimona while the other was Israeli student Roni Yechiah, who was killed in Sderot by a rocket launched from Gaza on February 27, becoming the thirteenth victim of rocket attacks from Gaza in six years with his death thought to be the catalyst for Israeli attacks on Gaza which gradually increased as a result.
While this week has claimed close to 70 Palestinian lives thus far, over 100 rockets have been launched from Gaza. Normally in the past, rockets fired from Gaza by politically-affiliated groups have taken the form of homemade, inaccurate and primitive Qassams. However, this week, Israeli officials disclosed that Grad and Katyusha missiles had been shot from Gaza as the western town of Ashkelon had been hit, an area thought to be beyond the range of the homemade devices. This slight escalation of capability attracted a greater sense of seriousness and urgency from Israeli representatives, none more vocal than the comments made by Maton Vilnai on February 29. The deputy Defense Minister declared that “the more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a larger range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger “shoah” because we will use all our might to defend ourselves”. The word “shoah” has always been the word associated with the “holocaust” which raised many questions about Israel’s brutal intentions towards Gaza. However, Israeli officials were quick to reveal that “shoah” can also refer to any significant disaster.
The assault on Gaza began on February 27. An Israeli missile which struck northern Gaza near the Al-Taw’am situated Khazadar gas station, hit a house killing three children. One of the victims was 5 month old Muhammed Nasser al-Borey. The identities of the other two children have not yet been confirmed as Palestinian medical services report that this is an arduous task when one of the victims arrives to the hospital decapitated. Also on February 27, Abu Mardeel, a guard of an orange grove in the Ash Shiya’iyya neighborhood in east Gaza was killed while another victim has not yet been identified. In addition, five members of Hamas’ military wing, al-Qassam Brigades, were killed near the al-Aqsa University in Khan Younis while one Islamic Jihad member, named Zakey Abu Zaid, was killed in Al Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.
The Israeli assault on February 27 came just two days after tens of thousands of Gaza residents had formed a human chain along the 40 kilometer long Salah Eddin road which runs from Rafah in the south to Beit Hanoun in the north. Following the destruction of the Rafah crossing on January 23, the offices of Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Livni released a statement stressing that “Israel will not intervene in demonstrations inside the Gaza Strip but it will ensure that the defense of its territory and prevent any violation of its sovereign borders”. The head of the Popular Committee against the Siege, Jamal al-Khudari, criticized the Israeli threats emphasizing that “this [the demonstration] is a peaceful and civilized act to let the people express their rejection of the siege and of collective punishment…we are raising a cry for the world to act”.
The 11 killed on February 27 proved to be only the beginning of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip. A further 18 Palestinians were killed on February 28 as Israeli targeted the Palestine Syndicate of Laborers in the Saftawi neighborhood in Gaza City and a police station in Beit Lahlia, a building very close to prominent Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s house. Amongst the children dead were Deib Darduna , Umar Darduna , Ali Darduna , Muhammed Hamuda  and Anjad As-Sakani . The attack also managed to dispose of Hamas members Rami Khalifa , Abdullah  and Jawad Tafish , who were all from Hamas’ military wing, al-Qassam Brigades, while Palestinian Legislative Council member and Hamas official Hamza Khalil Al-Hayya also died. Ala al-Burnu , a bystander as the police station was targeted, was also killed on February 28.
In other acts of violence on February 28, Mahir Abu Ar-Reish  and Ahmad An Nadi , two members of Fateh’s military wing, al-Aqsa Brigades, were killed by Israeli forces in Balata refugee camp in the northern West Bank city of Nablus. Furthermore, it was revealed that Fadil Udah Shahim  died while serving in an Israeli jail on account of medical negligence. The man from Gaza City suffered from diabetes and was not treated accordingly.
By February 29, the death toll in Gaza had reached almost 33 people in just three days. Fatima Al-Qar’wi  experienced a heart attack as Israeli planes bombed the area around her house and a technician for Gaza Electricity, Muhammed Shamiyya, was killed in the southern district of Khan Younis.
The number of Palestinian dead rocketed to approximately 70 as 28 Palestinians have been killed so far on March 1 by an Israeli raid into Jabaliya.
There were a host of differing reactions to these events from the respective parties involved in the region. The Israeli government was staunchly supportive of its actions which it believe were justified. Concerning the attacks on Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak commented that the rockets launched at Ashkelon and Sderot “demand an Israeli retaliation” and that Hamas must “suffer the consequences”, warning that all preparations for a full scale invasion of Gaza had been completed. Meanwhile, speaking from Tokyo, Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert also defended his actions reiterating that “we are in the height of battle…it is a long process. We have no magic formula to resolve it. This is a painful process. We get painful hits and we hit back harder…we will make the terrorists pay a very painful price”. Conversely, long time critic of Olmert, Yossi Beilin, highlighted that Hamas had recently made many motions to offer a peace deal with Israel.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed how she was “concerned for the humanitarian situation” in Gaza but blamed Hamas for plunging Gaza into this situation, urging that rockets into Israel must stop immediately. A Representative from the State Department also informed that the Secretary of State would visit Israeli and the Occupied West Bank from March 3-7.
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri, issued a statement telling Israel that “we are not afraid of these threats” while deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told Israel “you are mistaken if you thought that targeting buildings, ministries and police stations is going to stop our work”. Haniyeh also condemned the US for condoning Israel attacks as an act of self defense.
In Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority resides, President Abbas told Palestinians that “it is in the interest of the Palestinian people not to give Israel any pretext to continue its aggressions”. The President’s spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rdainah, added simply that by their actions the Israeli government has proved that it “aims to destroy the peace process”.
In other news this week, Syrian ambassador to the US Imad Mustapha, claimed on February 25 that there would be no peace deal by the end of 2008 and that the process was purely “an exercise in public relations” with no tangible or visible results. The Israeli Prime Minister on February 26 also voiced his reservations saying that “we have a desire to reach an agreement within the year of 2008. But I am not sure we will make it”.
Hamas and PA relations further plummeted this week with Hamas blaming the PA for the death of Majed al-Barghouti , an influential imam who died while in custody. During his funeral, Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of torturing him in order to extract a “sham confession” from him in revealing where Hamas forces were concentrated within the West Bank and what their plans were for the area. Supporters of Barghouti called for the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, to seek retribution.
Although rumors circulated that President Abbas had met with Hamas leader Nassereddin al-Shaer in secret, the president once again attacked Hamas on February 27 by linking them with al-Qaeda. “Al-Qaeda is present in Gaza and I am convinced they [Hamas] are their allies”.
As this “Week in Review” goes to print on March 1, Palestinians continue to be killed in Israeli raids on Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The number of dead over the last four days is now estimated at 66, with nearly half of the fatalities consisting of innocent Palestinian civilians.