Gaza: death toll passes 800 as Israel defies UN resolution

Israel pounded Gaza with bombs and shells Jan. 9, vowing to pursue its war despite a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would not bow to “outside influence,” as its warplanes carried out more air-strikes and the army’s tanks shelled several locations despite an announced three-hour “humanitarian” lull. Hamas meanwhile also rejected the UN resolution on the grounds that it only serves Israel’s interests. Gaza medical authorities say the death toll in the offensive now stands at 801, with more than 3,500 injured. Children account for 230 of the dead.

More civilian targets hit
Israeli airstrikes demolished ten homes overnight, including the residence of the Hamas chief of police for Gaza, Abu Obeida Al-Jarrah, in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood. Warplanes also destroyed the house of the Hamas security chief in the southern city of Rafah. A police station in the Zaitoun neighborhood of Gaza was also demolished, along with the Ar-Rebat Mosque in Khan Younis. In the town of Al-Zawaydah, in the central Gaza Strip, three were killed and seven injured by shelling from Israeli gunboats.

Hamas and allied armed groups fired more than 15 rockets into southern Israel, injuring one person, the Israeli military said. At least four Grad rockets hit Beersheva, about 25 miles from Gaza.

“Dire” threat of hunger
The United Nations’ main aid agency in Gaza, UNRWA, was forced to halt operations by the ongoing bombing, raising fears that the territory’s beleaguered 1.5 million population will soon go hungry. “The need on the ground is dire,” Nancy Ronan, spokeswoman for the UN World Food Program, said from Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with Gaza. “Eighty percent of the population is in need right now, maybe even beyond that. We got food into Gaza, but we now have a problem distributing it because of the security situation.”

Early Jan. 10, UNRWA announced that its Gaza operations would resume following guarantees for the safety of its personnel from Israeli military authorities. (Press TV, Iran, Jan. 10; Ma’an News Agency, Middle East Online, Jan. 9)

Israeli Defense Forces admit error in shelling of school?
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told the Israeli daily Haaretz that the IDF had conceded wrongdoing in the shelling of a UN school, which Israeli military authorities said was being used by armed militants. “In briefings senior [Israel Defense Forces] officers conducted for foreign diplomats, they admitted the shelling to which IDF forces in Jabalya were responding did not originate from the school,” Gunness said. “The IDF admitted in that briefing that the attack on the UN site was unintentional.”

He noted that all the footage released by the IDF of militants firing from inside the school was from 2007 and not from the incident itself. “There are no up-to-date photos,” Gunness said. “In 2007, we abandoned the site and only then did the militants take it over.” (Ha’aretz, Jan. 9)

Clashes in Ramallah, Hebron, Jerusalem
Hamas supporters protesting the Gaza offensive clashed with Palestinian Authority security forces who used tear gas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, with 13 hospitalized and several more detained. Hamas protesters also clashed with Israeli forces in Hebron, where soldiers fired rubber-coated bullets and teargas. In Jerusalem, police fired teargas at dozens of young Palestinians who threw stones. It was the second week in a row that Hamas called for a “day of wrath” against the Israeli aggression. (Middle East Online, Xinhua, Jan. 9)

Protests in Egypt, Jordan
Arab anger at the conflict is mounting with more than 50,000 Egyptians rallying after prayers in the city of Alexandria to condemn Israel’s onslaught. Legislators affiliated with the opposition Muslim Brotherhood led the protest in the ancient Mediterranean port city that echoed to such slogans as “Down with Israel and with every collaborator.”

Thousands also marched in Amman, Jordan, chanting “no Israel embassy on Arab territory.” (Middle East Online, Xinhua, Jan. 9)

See our last post on Gaza.

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  1. Israel is committing war crimes
    International law scholar George E. Bisharat writes for the Wall Street Journal, Jan. 10:

    Israel Is Committing War Crimes
    Hamas’s violations are no justification for Israel’s actions.

    Israel’s current assault on the Gaza Strip cannot be justified by self-defense. Rather, it involves serious violations of international law, including war crimes. Senior Israeli political and military leaders may bear personal liability for their offenses, and they could be prosecuted by an international tribunal, or by nations practicing universal jurisdiction over grave international crimes. Hamas fighters have also violated the laws of warfare, but their misdeeds do not justify Israel’s acts.

    The United Nations charter preserved the customary right of a state to retaliate against an “armed attack” from another state. The right has evolved to cover nonstate actors operating beyond the borders of the state claiming self-defense, and arguably would apply to Hamas. However, an armed attack involves serious violations of the peace. Minor border skirmishes are common, and if all were considered armed attacks, states could easily exploit them — as surrounding facts are often murky and unverifiable — to launch wars of aggression. That is exactly what Israel seems to be currently attempting.

    Israel had not suffered an “armed attack” immediately prior to its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Since firing the first Kassam rocket into Israel in 2002, Hamas and other Palestinian groups have loosed thousands of rockets and mortar shells into Israel, causing about two dozen Israeli deaths and widespread fear. As indiscriminate attacks on civilians, these were war crimes. During roughly the same period, Israeli forces killed about 2,700 Palestinians in Gaza by targeted killings, aerial bombings, in raids, etc., according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

    But on June 19, 2008, Hamas and Israel commenced a six-month truce. Neither side complied perfectly. Israel refused to substantially ease the suffocating siege of Gaza imposed in June 2007. Hamas permitted sporadic rocket fire — typically after Israel killed or seized Hamas members in the West Bank, where the truce did not apply. Either one or no Israelis were killed (reports differ) by rockets in the half year leading up to the current attack.

    Israel then broke the truce on Nov. 4, raiding the Gaza Strip and killing a Palestinian. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire; Israel then killed five more Palestinians. In the following days, Hamas continued rocket fire — yet still no Israelis died. Israel cannot claim self-defense against this escalation, because it was provoked by Israel’s own violation.

    An armed attack that is not justified by self-defense is a war of aggression. Under the Nuremberg Principles affirmed by U.N. Resolution 95, aggression is a crime against peace.

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