Israel tightens grip on Gaza City; calls grow for war crimes probe

Israeli tanks rolled deeper into Gaza City from the northern outskirts Jan. 12, approaching the headquarters of Hamas’ security building. “We are tightening the encirclement of the city,” Brig. Eyal Eisenberg, commander of the Israeli offensive, told a small group of reporters brought in to Gaza to observe the offensive. (Reporters remain generally barred from the Strip.) Air-strikes also continued through the day against 25 “targets” across the Strip—far fewer than in recent days. Nearly 30 rockets or mortars were fired on Israel from Gaza; no casualties were reported. Palestinian medical officials say 910 have been killed in Gaza so far, including 292 children and 75 women. Israeli officials say 13 Israelis, including three civilians, have been killed. (CNN, Jan. 13; BBC News, Jan. 12)

UN chief: “Just stop now”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “very frustrated and concerned” that Security Council Resolution 1860, demanding an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, has not been respected. “The fighting must stop,” he said. “To both sides, I say, ‘Just stop now.'” (VOA, Jan. 12)

Offensive to end in a week?
An Israeli government minister and leader within the country’s Kadima Party said that the war in Gaza will start to wind down within a week. Infrastructure Minster Benyamin Eliezer made the statement shortly after similar predictions from Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. Moratino made his comments during a meeting with his counterpart in Cairo on Monday, saying, “The ceasefire agreement will be ready in a few days if all things go well.” He added, “I can’t give a specific time but we are working on it.” (Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 12)

Outcry over displacement grows
International concerns about massive displacement in Gaza made the New York Times, with the newspaper citing claims from United Nations officials that about 30,000 people are living in schools run by the UN relief agency in the Strip (UNRWA), with an additional 60,000 having fled to the homes of relatives. The figures (which the Times said “still represent a small part of Gaza’s 1.5 million population”) have doubled in the past four days, UN officials said. “What began as very small, isolated numbers is now turning into a torrent,” said UNRWA deputy director Aidan O’Leary, deputy director for the United Nations agency that deals with Palestinian refugees.

Maj. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli military spokesman, said units used leaflets to warn families to leave areas where they planned to operate. But aid officials said that with Gaza’s borders closed, choices for shelter in the 140-square-mile Strip are slim and no shelter are not completely safe. (NYT, Jan. 13)

Violence on Jordan, Syrian borders?
Gunmen opened fire at an Israeli Border Police patrol along the border with Jordan border on the morning of Jan. 12, Tel Aviv said. There were no casualties in the incident, which took place along the desert frontier between the two countries in southern Israel. The troops returned fire, Israeli authorities said. Jordan quickly denied the report. The country’s PETRA news agency said: “A military source in the General Command of the Jordanian armed forces denied…that shots had been fired from the Jordanian side on the Western border, affirming that there is no truth to this information.” Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement in 1994 and the border is usually quiet.

There was a similar shooting incident the previous day along the Israel-Syria border. There were also no casualties in that incident, but the bullets struck a few vehicles belonging to soldiers working on the fence between Israel and Syria. (Ha’aretz, Jan. 13)

Peace process imperiled, NY Times invokes “transfer”
In a news analysis piece, “Crisis Imperils 2-State Plan, Shifting a Balance,” Michael Slackman wrote in the New York Times, Jan. 12:

With every image of the dead in Gaza inflaming people across the Arab world, Egyptian and Jordanian officials are worried that they see a fundamental tenet of the Middle East peace process slipping away: the so-called two-state solution, an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.

Egypt and Jordan fear that they will be pressed to absorb the Palestinian populations now living beyond their borders. If Israel does not assume responsibility for humanitarian aid in Gaza, for example, pressure could compel Egypt to fill the vacuum; Jordan, in turn, worries that Israel will try to push Palestinians from the West Bank into its territory.

Calls grow for war crimes investigation
UNRWA director John Ging joined those calling for a war crimes investigation into Israel’s Gaza campaign. “It’s about accountability [over] the issue of the appropriateness of the force used, the proportionality of the force used and the whole issue of duty of care of civilians,” he said. “We don’t want to join any chorus of passing judgment but there should be an investigation of any and every incident where there are concerns there might have been violations in international law.”

The Israeli military is accused of:

• Using powerful shells in civilian areas which the army knew would cause large numbers of innocent casualties
• Using banned weapons such as phosphorus bombs
• Holding Palestinian families as human shields
• Attacking medical facilities, including the killing of 12 ambulance men in marked vehicles
• Killing large numbers of police who had no military role.

Israeli military actions also prompted an unusual public rebuke from the International Red Cross over the apparent shelling of a civilian safe house, killing 30. The surviving children are said to have clung to the bodies of their dead mothers for four days while the army blocked rescuers from reaching the wounded. Human Rights Watch has called on the UN security council to set up a commission of inquiry into alleged war crimes. (The Guardian, Jan. 13)

See our last post on Gaza.

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