Gaza: Israel pours in reserves as death toll nears 900

Israel poured thousands of reservists called up in recent days into Gaza in the early hours of Jan. 12, after a day in which its troops pushed deeper into Gaza City and warplanes carried out nearly 60 air-strikes. Thousands of panicked Palestinian civilians have fled their homes before the advancing troops, responding to Israeli warnings that it would step up its war on the Strip. Since the start of the offensive, 890 have been killed, including 275 children, and another 3,800 wounded, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services.

Shells fall despite humanitarian “lull”
Air-strikes were concentrated on the outskirts of Gaza City and the Jabaliya refugee camp. Despite a so-called lull in the fighting for the delivery of humanitarian aid, Israeli shelling killed two Palestinians in the Ash-Shuja’eiyah neighborhood, east of Gaza City. Ground Israeli troops repeatedly exchanged fire with Palestinian resistance fighters throughout the night.

Israel using white phosphorous?
Palestinian doctors said burn wounds were caused by banned white phosphorous shells, with Israel denying the charge. Dr. Yusef Abu Rish at Gaza City’s Nasser hospital told said that at least 55 people were injured since the year’s start by white phosphorous shells, banned under international law for use against civilians. “These people were burned over their bodies in a way that can only be caused by white phosphorous,” said Abu Rish. An Israeli military spokesperon denied the claims. “There is no use of white phosphorous. Everything we use is according to international law,” she said.

Olmert claims progressā€”but offensive to continue
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is nearing the goals it had set for its operation, but that fighting would continue for now. “Israel is approaching these goals, but more patience and determination are required,” Olmert told a cabinet meeting. Military spokesperson Avital Leibovich said Israeli forces have demolished some 200 smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt borderā€”representing two-thirds of the total.

Hamas and its allies fired some 20 rockets into Israel Jan. 11, reaching up to 24 miles into Israeli territory, without causing injuries. Sixteen days into Operation Cast Lead, the IDF says there has been a dramatic drop in the ability of Hamas to launch rockets against Israel. Rocket attacks have dropped by 50% compared to the first day of the Gaza operation, Israeli authorities said. (Ha’aretz, Jan. 12; Ma’an News Agency, AFP, Jan. 11)

25,000 displaced
With residents and aid workers reporting there is “no place safe in Gaza,” thousands of Palestinians are now seeking refuge in UN schools, said Adnan Abu Hasna, Gaza spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). “Twenty-five thousand Palestinians were in the UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip taking refuge from the Israeli shelling. Every hour we are preparing for new arrivals.” Abu Hasna added that the amount of supplies that the UN agency is able to get through the crossings is not nearly enough as they try to “provide blankets, canned food and drinking water.” (Palestine News Network, Jan. 11)

Protests rock Pakistan, Belgium, Philippines
Security forces used tear gas and batons to repel thousands of anti-Israel protesters who tried to storm the US consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, as tens of thousands in cities across Europe, the Middle East and Asia demonstrated against Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. A thousands-strong protest in Brussels turned violent as well, with demonstrators overturning cars and smashing shop windows. In Manila, riot police dispersed students protesting outside the US Embassy. (AP, Jan. 11)

Egypt: Hamas agrees fighting must end
Despite hardline rhetoric from Hamas, Egypt’s official MENA news agency said Egyptian officials characterized as hopeful negotiations underway between the nation’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and a Hamas delegation. Two of Hamas’ Syria-based leaders and three officials from Gaza participated in the talks. Unnamed officials said Hamas leaders were considering Egyptian proposals for a ceasefire. (AP, Jan. 12)

Whither Obama?
US President-elect Barack Obama reacted to the crisis on ABC’s “This Week.” “When you see civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, harmed, under hardship, it’s heartbreaking. And obviously what that does is it makes me much more determined to try to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now.”

Rejecting criticism that he has been relatively quiet on the Gaza violence, Obama said he believes “the one area where the principle of ‘one president at a time’ has to hold is when it comes to foreign policy. We cannot have two administrations at the same time simultaneously sending signals in a volatile situation. But what I am doing right now is putting together the team so that on January 20, starting on day one, we have the best possible people who are going to be immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process as a whole, that are going to be engaging with all of the actors there, that will work to create a strategic approach that ensures that both Israelis and Palestinians can meet their aspirations.” (CNN, Jan. 11)

See our last post on Gaza.

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