Fighter plane squads intensify Israel’s deadliest assaults ever on Palestinian militants, killing more civilians. Aircrafts widen their scope, dropping bombs on smuggling tunnels that allegedly they claim to be a weapons conduit for the Gaza Strip’s Islamic Hamas. Israel’s Cabinet authorized the military to call up 6,500 reserve soldiers for a possible ground invasion and moved tanks, infantry and armored units to the Gaza border. Since it began Saturday, Israel’s offensive against Gaza rocket squads has been carried out exclusively from the air, according to newswires.
Earlier Sunday, in an interview with Egypt’s tourism minister Zoheir Garannah, he said that the Gaza-Egypt border remains open only to the wounded. President Hosni Mubarak gave instructions yesterday for the Rafah terminal – the only one that bypasses Israel – to be opened for wounded Palestinians to be evacuated “so they can receive the necessary treatment in Egyptian hospitals. Egypt has reinforced security on its frontier with Gaza by deploying 500 anti-riot police along the border in the wake of the raids, but AP reporters said hundreds of Gazans, backed by a bulldozer, breached the border wall with Egypt and poured across the frontier to escape the chaos. Egyptian security officials said a border officer was killed in clashes with Palestinian gunmen.
Freelance journalist Fida Qishta, reporting from Palestine, said civilian casualties have been increased in the last hours of filing this story. As she spoke to the eTurbo News, attacks were ongoing. “Minutes ago, they’ve attacked a mosque in Jabalya; it’s still ongoing. A child was killed thus far. In Rafah, they’ve hit the minister’s building 40 minutes ago. It is still ongoing. At 3.30 am, they attacked a police station; at 7, a pharmacy was hit west of Rafah. And then another police station in the city center. After 4 pm today, eleven F-16 rockets were dropped on the Rafah border. After 7, Rafah was attacked again by F-16 fighters. A few minutes ago, the tunnels were hit again by 3 rocket,” she said, adding that one police headquarters has suffered from more than 60 air strikes.
Qishta added that in Gaza a police station was bombed; followed by a prison. Many were killed. Civilians were killed too and a few houses were downed. She said: “As of last count, there are 290 dead. More than 900 are injured. Most of the dead are children and women (10 percent) and (35 percent) are old men (over 40) who were not with the army. Over 45 were young students.
“At the time of the attacks I was on Omar Mukhtar street and witnessed a last rocket hit the street 150 meters away where crowds had already gathered to try to extract the dead bodies. Ambulances, trucks, cars – anything that can move is bringing injured to the hospitals. Hospitals have had to evacuate sick patients to make room for the injured. I have been told that there is not enough room in the morgues for the bodies and that there is a great lack of blood in the blood banks,” said Canadian member Eva Bartlett of the International Solidarity Movement.
Natalie Abu Shakhra, a Free Gaza Movement member and activist said: “They’re bombing all around us right now. Local news says the number of dead will rise above 300. This is a war crime. They are not aiming their rockets at Hamas; instead they are killing civilians. They want to get rid of the Palestinian population.”
According to Qishta, the Israelis have prepared for this operation long before the strikes. Immediately after the seize fire, the Israelis began the siege across Palestine, hitting buildings, schools, municipalities etc. “They said they wanted to end the power of the government,” she said.
They are not targeting Hamas bases. “B.S! There are no Hamas bases. We don’t even have guns to defend ourselves. We only have our bodies as their targets. What does Hamas have or can use against a nuclear superpower. None. Our casualties are civilians. They – one soldier. Yesterday, two girls burned to death right in front of my eyes,” said Abu Shakhra, who revealed she’s protecting herself with nothing at all but a dream that “things will change after I die. I will not leave. I will stick to my home, to my land.”
“Israelis say they’re defending themselves. How? When only one Israeli has died versus 300 Palestinians,” questioned Qishta.
“Israeli missiles tore through a children’s playground and busy market in Diere Balah, we saw the aftermath – many were injured and some reportedly killed. Every hospital in the Gaza strip is already overwhelmed with injured people and does not have the medicine or the capacity to treat them. The world must act now and intensify the calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel; governments need to move beyond words of condemnation into an active and immediate restraint of Israel and a lifting of the siege of Gaza,” said Ewa Jasiewicz of the Free Gaza Movement. She is on the scene documenting her account.
Speaking from Ramallah, International Solidarity Movement media coordinator Adam Taylor said homes of two correspondents were hit. “There are more casualties on the Palestinian side including children and mothers. One on the Israeli side,” he said.
“This has been ongoing following their policies of genocide. People cannot take the end of the ceasefire out of the context. No border crossings were opened during the seize fire. Attacks in Gaza are the extension of the same policies on widespread civilian deaths,” said Taylor.
“The world is just watching – uninterested. Since Obama is coming to office while Bush leaves, they see this as an opportunity and weakness in decisions and policy-making. They’re also taking advantage of the Arab governments’ silence. Look, Egypt still insists on closing the Rafah entrance – showing that the Arab governments have no influence,” said Abu Shakhra who identifies herself as an Arab girl from Lebanon who does not recognize Israel on the map, but came to the Palestinian occupied land. She said with going to Gaza and staying, as a citizen she’s done something no Arab leader has done.
The bloodbath came just a few hours within Bethlehem’s reporting of extremely high hotel occupancy and tourist visitations over Christmas. The Holy City has surpassed the millionth visitor this year since the start of the Intifada in October 2000.
eTN had scheduled an exclusive interview with Palestinian Tourism Minister Dr. Kholoud Daibes but it was set on the same day the massive air strikes began. Needless to say, the interview never occurred. Before the carnage, Daibes was very optimistic Palestine would see a rebound in tourism this end of year. Until this…