Gaza Offensive Enters Second Week [December 28 - January 3]
The atrocities in Gaza dominated the news this week, as Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ entered its eighth day on January 3. The Israeli assault, which began around noon on December 27, killed 292 Palestinians and injured more than 1,000 in just 24 hours. Many Palestinians now refer to the first 24 hours as the Black Saturday Massacre, the bloodiest one-day death toll in 60 years of conflict. By December 29, 350 were reported killed. As of this morning, that number had risen to at least 430, with well over 2,200 injured. Using F-16s and AH-64 Apache helicopters, Israel has bombed hundreds of targets, destroying government buildings, security apparatus, mosques, schools, university buildings, tunnels used to smuggle in food and weapons, and homes, as well as the Gaza City Port. On December 28, Israel announced it had called up some 6,500 reservists in preparation for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. Thousands of reservists, infantry and armored corps soldiers now surround the Gaza Strip border.
While devastation has been the order of the day every day since the 27th, some of the most horrific incidents of the week took place on December 29 and January 1.
On December 29, five young sisters were killed while sleeping in their home in the Jabalya neighborhood of Gaza. From the Ba’lousha family, the girls were killed when a missile was fired into the residential district where they lived. As bombs began falling near the family home shortly before midnight, Samira, the mother of eight, began removing her children from the home. She was only able to safely remove three of her children from the house before a missile hit the home, reducing it to rubble almost instantaneously. The daughters were four-year old Jawaher Ba'lousha, her eight-year old and two-year old sisters Dina and Samar, as well as 1-year old Ikram and 17-year old Tahrir. Samira herself was injured in the blast and remains in critical condition at Gaza City Hospital.
On January 1, an Israeli airstrike targeting senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayan also killed most of his family. Three Israeli missiles struck his home, killing 13 family members, including several children, along with his six-year old son Abed. The home was located in a four-storey building in the densely populated neighborhood of Jabalya.
On January 2, about 250 foreign passport holders left the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing near Beit Hanoun Friday morning, after being granted permission by Israel. Most of the internationals departing the Gaza Strip hold passports from the former Soviet Union and some European countries. Many, however, refused to leave because they would not leave children and close family behind. Sadly, that same day, another three children from Al-Astal family lost their lives in another Israeli airstrikes. They were Mohamad (10), Abed Rabu (11) and Abed As-Satar (11).
Since the start of the Israeli bombardment, Palestinian armed factions have stepped up their projectile attacks into Israel, and it was reported that attacks are now being coordinated between factions. Hundreds of rockets have been fired so far, and four Israelis have died since December 28, while many have been treated for ‘shock’. Three Hamas-launched rockets managed to reach 40 kilometers inside Israeli territory, hitting the city of Beersheba on December 30 and 31.
On December 31, UN humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard announced that Gaza’s hospitals were facing severe strain dealing with "their largest ever trauma caseloads under some of the most adverse conditions imaginable." The UK’s International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander also said: “The human cost of this conflict is unacceptable and the humanitarian situation is getting worse by the hour... Medical items are in short supply. Fuel shortages have led to power cuts which in turn are affecting hospitals and other essential services. ”
That same day, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner proposed a 48-hour ceasefire plan to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. However, the idea was rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who said conditions were not ‘right’ yet for a ceasefire. Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha told AFP that Hamas is open to any ceasefire proposition that will end the Israeli airstrikes and stop the Gaza blockade.
As the bombing continued, it was discovered on January 2 that Israeli jets have been dropping flyers asking Gazans to inform Israeli military of the whereabouts of projectile launchers in return for aid and assistance. The papers were found all over Gaza and bear the signature of the Israeli military.
Around the world, protests and vigils have taken place in major cities including London, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Kabul, Toronto, Istanbul, Bern, and New York, as well as in Arab cities. On December 29, it was reported that Syria had ended its indirect peace negotiations with Israel in light of the latter’s ongoing assaults on the Gaza Strip. An anonymous Syrian official said that “Israel’s aggression closes all the doors” to a peace settlement in the Middle East. That same day, Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia also announced a freeze of negotiations with Israel while the attacks continue.
In Israel’s own parliament, tempers were lost when rightist Israeli members of the Knesset made provocative statements against Palestinians in Gaza. One Palestinian member, Muhammad Baraka, was expelled when he got into a heated argument with other members.
The SS Dignity departed from Cyprus on December 29, carrying three tons of medical supplies as well as a number of volunteer doctors and human rights workers. Unfortunately, according to the ship’s crew, Israeli warships surrounded and rammed into it three times. Captain Denis Healy said the Israeli attack came, ""without any warning, or any provocation." The ship then headed for the port of Tyre in Lebanon, where it arrived on December 31. The Lebanese government announced it would conduct a forensic analysis of the ship to determine what happened.
Moving to the West Bank, demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers have taken place on a daily basis since December 27. On December 28, the West Bank village of Ni’lin witnessed clashes leaving one Palestinian dead and six others injured by rubber bullets. At the Shufat Refugee Camp in east Jerusalem, hundreds of youths rallied and threw stones at Israeli soldiers and traffic, and one child was lightly injured. In Hebron, youths hurled Molotov cocktails at an Israeli military post near the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Old City. In Ramallah, the Palestinian National Initiative organized a sit-in at the center of the city, carrying signs denouncing the Israeli attacks and expressing solidarity with Gaza. In Bethlehem, officials announced that Manger Square's Christmas lights would be turned off as the West Bank mourns the loss of hundreds of Palestinians.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli troops detained 22 Palestinians, two of whom were children, from villages near Ramallah and Bethlehem late on December 30. Three brothers were also seized that day in Hebron.
Friday, January 2 and a Muslim day of prayer, was also proclaimed to be a day of wrath for Gaza. Israel deployed thousands of additional forces and border guards inside Jerusalem’s main entrances in anticipation of demonstrations following Friday prayers. As usual, men under the age of 45 were not allowed to worship and a closure was placed on the West Bank for 48 hours, effective as of midnight, January 1. However, despite the high Israeli army presence, clashes still occurred throughout Jerusalem as well as in most West Bank towns and villages.
Finally, the media blackout from Gaza continues, despite an Israeli High Court announcement that Israel would allow foreign journalists into the Strip. The blackout has been in effect since November 11.