Israel continues Gaza assault

Israeli aircraft continued to pound the Gaza Strip for the eight straight day [AFP]

UPDATED ON:
Saturday, January 03, 2009
15:05 Mecca time, 12:05 GMT

A field commander of the armed wing of Hamas has been killed in continuing Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Abu Zakaria al-Jamal, a senior figure in the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, died of his wounds on Saturday after Israeli jets bombed his house overnight.

His death came as Israel kept up its deadly assault on Gaza for the eighth straight day. Hamas vowed to defeat the Israeli army if it invaded the territory.

“If you commit the stupidity of launching a ground offensive then a black destiny awaits you,” Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, said in a speech.

“You will soon find out that Gaza is the wrath of God,” he said.

The warning came as Israeli soldiers, tanks and armoured personnel carriers massed along Gaza’s border, preparing for what many speculated could be a possible ground offensive.

Death and destruction

Medical officials say at least 437 people have died in Gaza and 2,250 have been injured since Israel’s aerial bombardment began last week.

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Four Israelis have been killed in the same period by Palestinian rockets, including longer-range weapons that have hit the port of Ashdod and the desert town of Beer-sheva.

On Saturday, Israel’s military said more than a dozen rockets have been fired over the border.

Palestinians also reported more Israeli air strikes across the Gaza Strip. A school was among the targets bombed by the Israelis.

Israeli jets have fired more than 700 missiles into Gaza since the assault began last week.

Blame game

Meshaal, speaking from the Syrian capital of Damascus on Friday, said Palestinians in Gaza were ready for any land offensive made by the Israelis.

“This battle was imposed on us and we are confident we will achieve victory because we have made our preparations.

“Our position is clear. We will not give in. Our resolve cannot be broken,” he said.

“Our demand is also clear. The war must end, the siege lifted, and crossing points open without restriction.”

Meshaal says Hamas is prepared to handle an Israeli ground offensive [AFP]
But George Bush, the US president, in his first public comments on the hostilities, said Hamas had “instigated” Israel’s war on Gaza, referring to the rocket attacks on Israel’s southern towns.

“There must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end,” he said in remarks prepared for his weekly Saturday radio address.

Talking to Al Jazeera, Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, said that the party to be blamed for the present situation is Israel, not Hamas.

“It’s clear now that Israelis are blocking all the political solutions. The main question is supposed to be what will be the right end for this? And the clear answer is ending the occupation.”

Diplomacy

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, begins a two-day four-nation tour of the Middle East on Monday, hoping to rally key players behind an initiative for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Sarkozy will visit Egypt and Syria before travelling to Jerusalem on Monday for talks with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and to the West Bank to show support for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

Abbas and several Arab foreign ministers are flying to New York over the weekend to urge the UN Security Council to adopt an Arab draft resolution that would condemn Israel and demand a halt to its bombing campaign in Gaza.

The US has said the draft is “unacceptable” and “unbalanced”, because it makes no mention of halting the Hamas rocketing of southern Israel which led to the Israeli offensive.

Smoke rises from the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip after an Israeli attack [AFP]

Most of the 1.5 million people in the densely populated enclave have no means of sheltering from the raids, and humanitarian groups say supplies of food and fuel are running dangerously low.

Hospitals have reported shortages of even the most basic medicines and say they have no more capacity to deal with the growing numbers of casualties.

Karen Abu Zayed, the commissioner for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said that in eight years of working in Gaza the need for aid had “never been so acute”.

“I am appalled and saddened when I see the suffering around me,” she said, adding UNRWA has made an emergency appeal for $34m to help the Gaza population.

Hasan Khalaf, Gaza’s assistant deputy health minister, described the ongoing assault on Gaza as “an Israeli massacre”.

Source : Al Jazeera

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