Palestinian death toll passes 500 as Israeli army moves on Gaza City

Israeli troops and Hamas fighters battled at dawn in Gaza Jan. 5 amid tank, artillery and air strikes, as the death toll from the offensive passed 510. Israeli forces moved into the outskirts of Gaza City as families fled or remained hidden after a second night of combat. Fierce fighting is reported around the northern towns of Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanun and Jabaliya. The Israeli air force attacked 130 targets in Gaza overnight, a spokesman said. Shelling from naval boats off the coast could also be heard. Tanks have cut off Gaza City and the north from the rest of the Strip. Air-strikes were also reported in the southern border town of Rafah.

Casualties mount
At least 70 Palestinians have been killed since Israel sent ground troops into Gaza on the night of Jan. 3, Gaza medics said. Israel said one soldier was killed by a mortar shell in Beit Lahiya and another 19 were wounded. Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV reported fighters captures two Israeli soldiers, but later Hamas officials refused to confirm or deny the report. Moawiya Hassanein, head of Gaza medical emergency services, said the number of Palestinians killed since the Israeli operation was launched is now 512, including 87 children, with more than 2,500 wounded. Some 20 Hamas rockets fell on Israel Jan. 4, but there were no further casualties.

Hospitals overwhelmed
Gaza’s main Shifa Hospital is overwhelmed, according to a Norwegian doctor volunteering there. “The injured patients are mainly civilians, a lot of children with dreadful injuries,” Dr. Erik Fosse told CNN. Fosse said he estimated that about 30% of the casualties who arrived at Shifa Jan. 4 were children. “We’ve had a steady stream [of patients] every day, but the last 24 hours has [been] about triple the number of cases,” he said late Jan. 4, adding that 50 civilians were “severely wounded” when an Israeli air-strike hit a food market in Gaza City. Aid groups meanwhile expressed urgent concern for the civil population, who have no electricity, no water and now face dire food shortages. Hospitals are only running on backup generators. (Middle East Online, CNN, BBC World Service, Jan. 5; Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 4)

Security Council a “farce”
International efforts to halt the conflict sought new impetus after the UN Security Council failed to agree a statement on the conflict, with the US standing strongly behind Israel. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah today, after first meeting his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum condemned the Security Council meeting as “a farce.” (Middle East Online, Jan. 5)

Protests spread across globe
Protests against the Gaza offensive continue across the globe. Israeli troops shot and killed a protester during a demonstration at Qalqilya in the West Bank. Tens of thousands of Turks marched in Istanbul. Thousands also marched in Melbourne, Liverpool, and in cities across Belgium. Demonstrations in Athens again turned violent, with protesters smashing the windows of banks and a car dealership, and police responding with tear gas. (Middle East Online, AFP, Melbourne Herald Sun, Liverpool Daily Post, Belgium Expatica, Jan. 5; AP, Jan. 4)

Jews attacked in Yemen
In Yemen, security officials said protesters attacked several Jewish homes in the northern province of Omran, smashing windows and pelting them with rocks. One officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP at least one Jewish resident was injured among the small minority community.

In a consecutive day of protests in Beirut, police used water hoses and tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators at the US Embassy in Lebanon’s capital. Thousands also held a a sit-in outside the city’s UN building. Some 50,000 also marched in Rabat, Morocco. Angry protests were held in Cairo a day earlier, in defiance of a government ban. (AP, BBC World Service, Jan. 5)

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  1. Israeli activists arrested blocking military airstrip
    From YNet, Jan. 2:

    21 activists protesting Gaza op detained
    The Yarkon District police prevented a group of left-wing activists from blocking the entrance to the Sde Dov military airfield in Tel Aviv Friday morning.

    Twenty-one activists were detained for questioning.

    At about 7 am the activists arrived at the base wearing white clothes. At some point they poured red paint on themselves and lay on the ground while blocking the gate to the compound with their bodies.

    The protesters held up signs apparently addressing IDF pilots saying, “You are returning with blood on your hands.”

    Police received prior information on the protest and officers waited for the activists nearby, documented their actions and then arrested them.

    One of the activists told Ynet: “We came here to prevent air crews and pilots from taking off to bombard civilians in Gaza. Over 400 Palestinians have been killed in recent days in this operation, which won’t bring security to either of the sides.

    “We staged a non-violent demonstration here to get the message against the military’s violence across,” he added.