Gaza: both sides intransigent as offensive enters third week

Israeli troops bombed Gaza into a third week Jan. 10 as both Tel Aviv and Hamas ignored a UN Security Council demand to end the fighting. The Palestinian death toll reached 854 as Israel carried out more than 40 air-strikes against the territory overnight, mostly in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City and the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north. Bombs also fell on al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, where a mosque came under missile fire. In Khan Younis, the Israeli army shelled a security compound and a civil defense building. Although Hamas and its allies now claim to have fired more than 600 rockets into Israel, the Israeli toll since the start of the offensive still stands at 10 soldiers and three civilians.

Israel, Hamas dismiss ceasefire call
Both Israel and Hamas continue to dismiss the UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. Hamas said it was not consulted on the ceasefire resolution and would not accept a truce that did not see the lifting of the crippling blockade which Israel imposed on the territory since June 2007.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed disappointment with Israel’s defiance of the resolution demanding an immediate halt to the Jewish state’s deadliest offensive in Gaza. “The secretary general spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by phone this afternoon and expressed his disappointment that the violence is continuing on the ground in disregard of yesterday’s Security Council resolution,” Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas said late Jan. 9.

“The vicious cycle of provocation and retribution must be brought to an end,” added UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.

Aid shipments to resume?
In a statement, the UN said it would resume distribution in the enclave where most of the 1.5 million population depend on foreign aid after Israel gave “credible assurances that the security of UN personnel installations and humanitarian operations would be fully respected.” A spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said that most deliveries were expected to resume after Jan. 10.

The humanitarian impact of “Operation Cast Lead” is becoming more acute with the UN warning that families were going hungry as food supplies dry up. “We are receiving reports that some people are starting to burn their furniture to bake bread and to cook,” UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said.

Rafah residents told the UN news agency IRIN by phone that tens of thousands had fled heavy Israeli bombardments, with some seeking refuge at UN institutions or at homes of friends and relatives outside the area being bombed. (Middle East Online, Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 10; IRIN, Jan. 9)

Lebanon makes arrest over rocket attacks
The Lebanese Army arrested seven people with suspected links to a recent rocket attack on the northern Israeli town of Nahariya. The Israeli press reported that the suspects confessed that they were members of the Lebanese branch of the Hamas movement.

The Nahariya attacks Jan. 8 left four civilians wounded. Israel responded by artillery fire. Although Hezbollah was initially accused of launching the rockets, the movement did not claim responsibility for the attacks. Both Hezbollah and Lebanon‘s government have voiced their commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended the 33-day Israeli war against the country in the summer of 2006. (Press TV, Iran, Jan. 9)

Israel prepares “third stage” of offensive
Air-dropped leaflets and phone messages in Arabic from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) urged residents to keep away from sites linked to Hamas, saying that the IDF are not targeting Gazans but “Hamas and the terrorists only”. One phone message said “the third stage” of the operation would start soon. It is two weeks since air strikes on Gaza began. The ground attacks started a week ago. (BBC News, Jan. 11)

Leaders on both sides spoke defiantly of victory earlier this week. Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said after a meeting with European officials that Israel would “change the equation” in the region. Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahar, speaking from hiding in a recorded speech on Hamas TV, said: “The Israeli enemy in its aggression has written its next chapter in the world which will have no place for them. They shelled everyone in Gaza. They shelled children and hospitals and mosques and in doing so they gave us legitimacy to strike them in the same way.” (IHT, Jan. 5)

See our last post on Gaza.

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