The Israeli cabinet rejected calls from France and other nations for an immediate 48-hour pause in the devastating air offensive against Gaza, continuing the assault into a fifth day Dec. 31 despite mounting international pressure. A foreign ministry spokesman said that Israel would only consider a “permanent” halt to its operation, and only under “certain conditions.” The spokesman said “Hamas must stop its rocket fire and acquiring arms” before Israel would “consider” a truce. By a UN count, the offensive has now killed at least 390 people, including 42 children, and wounded more than 1,900 others. (Middle East Online, Dec. 31)
Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, president of the UN General Assembly, accused Israel of “wanton aggression” in the offensive, saying it violates the Geneva Conventions. His statement listed three violations:
Collective punishment – The entire 1.5 million people who live in the crowded Gaza Strip are being punished for the actions of a few militants.
Targeting civilians – The air-strikes were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world, certainly the most densely populated area of the Middle East.
Disproportionate military response — The airstrikes have not only destroyed every police and security office of Gaza’s elected government, but have killed and injured hundreds of civilians; at least one strike reportedly hit groups of students attempting to find transportation home from a university. [Ma’an News Agency, Dec. 31]
International aid groups are warning of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza if Israel does not halt the air-strikes immediately. “The consequences of [further] military action by Israel would be disastrous,” said Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, a London-based aid organization that is providing food and water for Palestinians affected by the Israeli blockade. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed similar concerns, saying Gaza’s hospitals are “overwhelmed and unable to cope with the scale and type of injuries that keep coming in.” (IPS, Dec. 30)
Emergency medical supplies are being flown to the Middle East to help Gaza’s overstretched hospitals. Doctors at Shifa hospital, a 585-bed facility which is Gaza’s largest, said they are forced to treat patients on the floor and conduct operations with as many as three different patients and a dozen doctors crowded into each operating theater. All 25 intensive care beds are full, said Dr. Hussain Ashaur, the hospital director, and there are still another 87 patients in a critical condition waiting to enter intensive care. He said there are severe shortages of medical supplies, including gauze, sterilization fluids and anesthetics. “We’re close to collapsing if this situation continues,” he said. (The Guardian, Dec. 31)
An Israeli patrol boat struck an aid vessel carrying medical supplies and volunteers to Gaza early Dec. 30 as it attempted to intercept the boat, dubbed The Dignity, in the Mediterranean Sea. The Gibraltar-flagged Dignity later docked at the Lebanese port of Tyre, where severe damage to the vessel was visible. The Dignity was carrying crew and 16 passengers—physicians from the UK, Germany and Cyprus, and human rights activists from the Free Gaza Solidarity Movement. Also on board was former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney. (CNN, Dec. 30)
Six Israelis have been killed by Hamas rocket attacks since the Israeli air offensive on Gaza began. At least 16 others have been reported wounded. Two Hamas rockets struck Beersheeba Dec. 30, some 26 miles into Israel—the deepest such attacks since the offensive, although no casualties were reported there. The Jerusalem Post gave prominent coverage to the funeral of Irit Sheetrit, 39, a mother of four from Ashdod who was killed in a rocket attack. (Press TV, JP, Dec. 31; MarketWatch, Dec. 30)
See our last post on Gaza.
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