Israelis protest Gaza siegeThousands of Israeli troops, backed by tanks and helicopters, entered the Gaza Strip shortly nightfall Jan. 3, following up a night of heavy bombing with the anticipated ground invasion. Israeli forces mostly entered the Strip from the north, and reached the towns of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun in the early hours of Jan. 4. Heavy fighting is also reported at the Rafah border crossing and the Jabaliya refugee camp, and 30 Israeli soldiers are confirmed wounded so far. Israel has barred journalists from the Strip, but Palestinian medical sources say 464 Gaza residents have now been killed since the bombing began a week ago. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for a halt to the invasion. But an emergency meeting of the Security Council ended without agreeing on a statement on the crisis—largely due to US intransigence. (AlJazeera, BBC World Service, Jan. 4)
Israel: long invasion ahead
All public statements from the Israeli government point to a long operation. Israeli military spokesperson Avi Benayahu told Channel Two: “This is not going to be a school trip. We are talking about long days.” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a press conference, “The ground assault on Gaza will be expanded in order to bring calm and stop the rocket fire… Our military operations will widen and deepen as much as needed… It will not be easy or short, but we are determined.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the aim of the invasion—Phase Two of the ongoing offensive on Gaza—is to take control of border areas from which militants fire homemade rockets.
Hamas: Gaza will be Israelis’ “graveyard”
As the ground invasion began, Hamas leader Isma’il Radwan and spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum held a press conference broadcast from an undisclosed location in the Gaza Strip, where they pledged resistance. Radwan said Gaza would become a “graveyard” for Israeli soldiers. Hamas’ Syria-based leader Khaled Meshaal told Israel in pre-taped remarks broadcast on Al-Jazeera TV that “if you commit the stupidity of launching a ground offensive then a black destiny awaits you. You will soon find out that Gaza is the wrath of God.”
“Green light” from Washington
In his weekly Saturday radio address Jan. 3, the text of which was released by the White House, President George Bush blamed Hamas for the violence and rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire. “This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas,” Bush said. He said that after the ceasefire ended, Hamas “unleashed a barrage of rockets and mortars that deliberately targeted innocent Israelis—an act of terror that is opposed by the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, President [Mahmoud] Abbas.” Bush said he is “deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation facing the Palestinian people” but did he not urge Israel to stop the bombings.
“I think any steps they are taking, whether it’s from the air or on the ground or anything of that nature, are part and parcel of the same operation,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. “Those will be decisions made by the Israelis.” (BBC World Service, Jan. 4; Ma’an News Agency, Middle East Online, Jan. 3)
Gaza residents face “critical emergency”: UN
Much of the Gaza Strip is without electricity after a week of bombing, and a “critical emergency” looms despite an increase in humanitarian shipments, said Maxwell Gaylard, the UN’s chief aid co-ordinator for the territory. The UN believes that at least 100 of the Gaza resdidents killed by Israeli action so far were civilians. In a statement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that since the beginning of the campaign, 335 truckloads of humanitarian aid had been allowed into Gaza. It said it was working with international organizations in Gaza “in order to assess the humanitarian needs…and make the necessary response.” The statement said all reports indicate there are sufficient medicine and food in Gaza.
Gaylard responded: “It is true supplies have been going into the Strip, in fact possibly more than in previous weeks, but at the same time there are critical gaps.” Oxfam warned the situation “is getting worse by the day,” with clean water, fuel and food in short supply. It said hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties, and reported that raw sewage was pouring into the streets in some areas. (BBC News, Jan. 2)
Protests across world…
Protests against the Israeli offensive were reported from around the world Jan. 3. In London, some 5,000 people—including many young Muslims—gathered outside Israel’s embassy, hurling stones and firecrackers, burning Israeli flags, and pushing against lines of riot police. The group had broken away from a much larger demonstration at Trafalgar Square. Police said 12,000 people had taken part in the protest, but the Stop the War Coalition put the figure at more than 60,000. (The Guardian, Jan. 4)
Thousands of protesters also filled several blocks of 7th Ave. south of New York’s Times Square district. The protest was called by International Action Center, widely considered a crypto-Stalinist cult, but was broadly attended by New York area progressives and Muslims. (NYT, World War 4 Report on the scene, Jan. 3)
Protesters also burned Israeli flags in Srinagar, Kashmir. (Rising Kashmir, Jan. 2) In Nairobi, Muslims marched on the Israeli embassy Jan. 2 to demand the envoy “either apologize for the atrocities or vacate the country.” (Daily Nation, Jan. 2) Hundreds marched on the US embassy in Jakarta, and angry protests were also reported from Bogotá, Beirut and Berlin. In Athens, protesters threw stones and fire bombs at riot police, who retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades. In Amsterdam, one banner declared: “Anne Frank is turning in her grave.” (CBS, Jan. 3)
…and in Israel
In Tel Aviv, some 10,000 protesters gathered outside the residence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to demand an immediate ceasefire. Ofer Neiman, one of the organizers, said, “Our main message is—’Children in Gaza and Sderot want to live.’ We call not only for a ceasefire with Hamas, but for a comprehensive truce with our neighbors in order to resolve the core issues and find a way out of the cycle of bloodshed.”
Among participants were also several residents of Sderot, a town which has been hit by Hamas rockets, who are members of the “Different Voice” organization, calling for dialogue with the Palestinians of Gaza. Some 500 Sderot residents have signed a petition calling to for Israel to halt the military campaign and renew the truce with Hamas. Sderot resident Arik Yalin said over 1,800 Israelis and Palestinians have already joined the petition. “About a month ago we realized that the situation was about to deteriorate into total chaos,” he said. “It’s important for us to voice an opinion that represents quite a few residents who live within the rocket range but who believe that we can, and should try to resolve this ongoing conflict in a peaceful manner.”
Some 100,000 people also marched in Sakhnin, an Arab city within Israel’s borders, led by Arab members of the Israeli Knesset Ahmed Tibi and Mohammad Barakeh. Barakeh told PNN, “This is the largest march in the history of Palestinians” within Israeli boundaries.
In another move, Israeli scholars and authors, including Amos Oz, Eli Amir and Avraham Yehoshua, issued a public statement calling on Israeli leaders for an immediate ceasefire. (Press TV, Iran, YNet, Israel, Gush Shalom, Israel, Palestine News Network, Jan. 3)
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