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)
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