Gaza day 11: Israel bombs schools, pressure mounts for ceasefire

Israeli tanks and troops surged into towns across the Gaza Strip Dec. 6, battling Hamas fighters through the streets and alleys of Gaza City in the heaviest fighting of the 11-day-old offensive. Israeli air-strikes hit three UN-run schools, killing at least 45 people—bringing the Palestinian death toll in “Operation Cast Lead” to 635 and sparking urgent new ceasefire calls.

160 children killed
The United Nations demanded an investigation into the tank and air assaults that hit three UN-run schools—killing at least 45 people who had taken shelter in one at the Jabaliya refugee camp. Earlier, two people were killed when an artillery shell slammed into a school run by the UN Palestinian relief agency UNRWA in Khan Yunis. Three people were killed in an air-strike on a school in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, medics said.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Maxwell Gaylard, said Israel had the GPS coordinates of all UN buildings in Gaza—including its schools. “Neither homes nor UN shelters are safe” for civilians, he said in a statement which reaffirmed UN ceasefire calls. “These tragic incidents need to be investigated, and if international humanitarian law has been contravened, those responsible must be held accountable.”

Palestinian medics say the toll of children killed since the Israeli offensive began 11 days ago has now reached 160. (Middle East Online, Jan. 6)

Babies face hypothermia risk
The British aid organization Save the Children warned that newborn babies in Gaza are at risk of hypothermia because of freezing temperatures and a cut in the power supply. Most homes and hospitals in Gaza, where night-time temperatures drop to freezing, are now without power and have no heating, the charity said, adding that people leave windows open to keep them from shattering under the impact of bombardment.

“We need to deliver more food and blankets to ensure that children do not die of hunger and cold,” said Jerusalem-based Save the Children spokesman Dominic Nutt. Referring to a European Union mission in the region, he added: “We want [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown and all EU leaders to push for a ceasefire so that we have safe access to those people in need in Gaza.”

Doctor Shaul Dollberg, professor of paediatrics at Tel Aviv University, was quoted by the charity as saying: “There is definitely potential for hypothermia for children in Gaza, especially for newborn babies. “Newborns need higher temperatures to survive.” (Middle East Online, Jan. 6)

Israel to respond to US ceasefire request?
On the diplomatic front, Arab nations again pressed the case for a UN Security Council resolution condemning the onslaught, but Israel rejected ceasefire calls by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other leaders. “Europe must open its eyes,” President Shimon Peres told an EU ministerial delegation. “We are not in the business of public relations or improving our image. We are fighting against terror and we have every right to defend our citizens.”

But reports in the Israeli press indicate that both the incoming and outgoing US presidents have expressed deep concern to Israel about civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip. According to military analyst Alof Ben David, the Israeli government may actually respond to a ceasefire request from the US within 48 hours.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington backed a ceasefire proposal by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. “We need urgently to conclude a ceasefire that can endure and that can bring real security,” Rice told the UN Security Council. “In this regard we are pleased by and wish to commend the statement of the president of Egypt and to follow up on that initiative.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blasted called Operation Cast Lead “the latest catastrophe” meted out on Palestinians by Israel. “The Israeli machine of destruction continues to kill, to commit the most heinous of possible crimes despite international unanimity, an unprecedented unanimity in calling for an end of this massacre against innocent civilians that do not deserve such brutality,” Abbas said. Abbas referred to strikes on the UN schools as a “massacre,” and “new proof of crimes against our people.” (Nonetheless, the New York Times reported that Palestinian Authority riot police put down a pro-Hamas march in solidarity with Gaza at Atarot near Ramallah on the West Bank.)

At least 12 more Hamas rockets were fired over the border into Israel Dec. 6, one reaching 45 kilometers inside Israeli territory—the deepest yet. Israeli military sources said a baby was lightly wounding a baby. (Ma’an News Agency, Ha’aretz, AFP, NYT, Jan. 6)

See our last post on Gaza

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  1. Bloomberg uses language of terrorism
    New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a high-profile tour of Ashkelon and Sderot, along with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Rep. Gary Ackerman of Queens. (NYT, Jan. 4) Days earlier, he voiced his support for the logic of terrorism (in, of course, counter-terrorist guise). From the Daily News, Dec. 30:

    Mayor Bloomberg angrily defended Israel’s missile barrage on the Gaza Strip Tuesday after an Israeli diplomat brought a shattered Hamas rocket to City Hall.

    “There’s no such thing as a measured response to terrorism – period,” he said at a meeting with Asaf Shariv, Israel’s consul general, who had just returned to the city from Israel.

    Yes, Your Honor, there is such a thing as a measured response to terrorism. You might want to try reading the Geneva Conventions. Here is the section on “indiscriminate attacks” from the handy Reference Guide to the Geneva Conventions:

    Indiscriminate attacks are those which are not directed at a specific military objective or those which use a method of attack that cannot be directed at or limited to a specific military objective. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 4)

    This includes area bombardment, where a number of clearly separated military objectives are treated as a single military objective, and where there is a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 5a)

    This also includes attacks where the expected incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects is excessive to the military advantage anticipated. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 5b)

    Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. (Protocol I, Art. 51, Sec. 4)

    Combatants must distinguish between civilian and military objects and attack only military targets. (Protocol I, Art. 48)

    If it becomes apparent that an objective in an attack is not a military one, or if that attack could cause incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects, then the attack must be called off. (Protocol I, Art. 57)

    This obviously applies to the Israeli assault on Gaza. Bloomberg is using precisely the logic of terrorism: that our cause is so important as to abrogate the norms of conventional morality. Another lesson in dialectics.

  2. Israel using white phosphorus in Gaza?
    From the Financial Times, Jan. 5:

    Israel denies white phosphorus shelling
    Israel denied claims Monday night that it had used white phosphorous shells in its assault on the Gaza Strip, resisting claims that the Israeli military had contravened international conventions by using the weapons in heavily populated areas.

    The front pages of many western newspapers on Monday showed a picture of Israeli shells with distinctive white shaped plumes exploding over Gaza.

    The picture prompted some western experts to claim that the shells contained white phosphorous, a munition that Israel admitted using in fighting against Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006.

    The Israel Defence Forces were planning on Monday night to put out a statement insisting that the shells pictured across the world’s media did not contain white phosphorous, a substance that causes serious skin burns. The IDF said in a statement: “IDF forces operate according to international law, including the use of weapons and ammunition.”

    However, IDF officials refused to specify exactly what kind of substance was being used in the shells.

    Some military experts insisted that, judging from the pictures, some form of white phosphorous might have been in use.

    “Although, I can’t say with 100 per cent certainty that these are classic white phosphorous rounds, they appear to have some form of white phosphorous content,” said Charles Heyman, a former editor of Jane’s World Armies. “If that is the case, this is bad news and the Israelis will lose out in terms of their international standing.”

    According to Dr Sandra Bell, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, white phosphorous is regularly used in battlefield situations and has been employed, for example, by US forces in Iraq. “These shells can be used as an effective smokescreen to obscure the advance of ground forces,” she said. “They can also be used to illuminate very large areas of a battlefield at night.”

    Dr Bell said that the use of white phosphorous shells in a battlefield situation was legal, and that there was no blanket ban under international law on their use as a smokescreen or for illumination. However, she noted that, according to the Geneva Convention, these substances are banned as a weapon of war in civilian areas because they burn skin. If the munitions were proven to contain white phosphorous, this could open Israel up to criticism because the Gaza Strip is densely populated.

    See our last post on white phosphorous.