Israel Resumes Gaza Bombardment
Israeli warplanes have resumed their air strikes on Gaza, blasting targets all over the Strip, including a mosque and a TV station.
In the first attack early on Sunday, Palestinians said Israeli aircraft bombed a mosque near Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
Two bodies were retrieved from the rubble. The blast, just after midnight, blew out windows at the hospital, hospital officials said.
Another target early on Sunday was the Al Aqsa TV station used by Hamas. Its studio building was destroyed, but the station remained on air with a mobile unit.
Palestinians counted about 20 air strikes in the first hours of Sunday.
Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on Saturday and threatened that the operation would widen if necessary.
Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, rejected calls for a new truce, saying Israel “cannot really accept” a ceasefire with Hamas.
“For us to be asked to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like asking you to have a ceasefire with al Qaeda. It’s something we cannot really accept,” Barak told Fox News from Tel Aviv.
Asked whether Israel would follow up the air strikes with a ground offensive, Barak said:
“If boots on the ground will be needed, they will be there. Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, Barak vowed to expand Israel’s operation if necessary. “There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting,” he said.
Ehud Olmert, the outgoing Israeli prime minister, described the assault as a war on Hamas, the Palestinian faction that took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Members of the Israeli cabinet say the attack is in response to an increase in the number of homemade rockets being fired into southern Israel since a ceasefire ended on December 19.
Gaza witnesses reported heavy damage after more than 30 missiles were fired from helicopter gun-ships and fighter jets on about 40 different locations in the strip.
Many of the dead in the series of attacks were police officers, including Tawfiq Jabber, the Gaza chief of police.
The toll is expected to rise further, with bodies still lying buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings. Hospitals, already suffering from shortages due to an 18-month blockade on the Gaza Strip, said they were struggling to cope with the number of injured, which included women and children.
Gaza is densely populated. Its 1.5 million residents are already experiencing shortages in power and basic supplies due to the siege which is widely condemned by human rights movements as a collective punishment.
Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, called the assault Israel’s “ugliest massacre.”
“I call on Palestinians to remain united and together in the face of this crime, in the face of this massacre and continued aggression, targeting our soil and our citizens,” he said.
Olmert, speaking in Tel Aviv on Saturday, said the operation would take time and called on Israelis to be “patient.”
“The quiet we offered was answered with mayhem. Our desire for calm was answered with terror,” he said.
“You are not our enemies. We do not fight against you,” Olmert said in a direct address to Palestinians.
“[Terror organizations] are disastrous for both peoples. Israel is not fighting against the Palestinian people, and the targets attacked today were chosen with the intent of avoiding civilian casualties.”
Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Jerusalem, said: “People have been forewarned about further operations of this intensity for many days to come, with more sorties flown by Israeli planes and helicopters and more targets in Gaza.
“In response, more than 50 rockets were fired into Israel today. Defense officials are warning that there could be as many as 200 rockets fired every day into Israel in the days to come.”
One Israeli was killed in rocket fire on Saturday.
Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, condemned the attack and demanded an immediate cessation.
Many leaders added their voices to condemn the onslaught, including Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN, who called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
Mousa Abu Morzouz, the deputy leader of Hamas, said: “Nobody in this world can accept what happened and the Israeli aggression ... [we expect] the international community to stand against this and say that it is not acceptable.”
Mustafa Barghouthi, the former Palestinian information minister, said: “This is not an attack on Hamas. It is an attack on the whole population and the free will of the people of Gaza.”
He accused Israel of committing “war crimes” and demanded that Abbas and his government stop all relations with Israel.
‘Only just beginning’
The Israeli army released a statement on Saturday saying “terrorist installations” were hit and that all Israeli pilots returned unharmed.
Avi Benayahu, an Israeli military spokesman said: “The operation against Hamas is “only just beginning.”
The air raids follow a breakdown of a six-month-old Israel-Hamas truce earlier this month.
The ceasefire expired on December 19, with Hamas arguing that Israel had violated the truce by preventing vital supplies from entering the Strip.
Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip to receive injured people, Egyptian officials said. Ambulances have been sent to the crossing and two Egyptian hospitals emptied to take in the wounded.
Hamas won control of the Palestinian Legislative Council in elections in January 2005. The international community refused to accept a Hamas-led government, demanding that the faction recognize Israel and renounce violence. Economic sanctions by the EU and U.S. followed.
Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after bloody street battles against its rival, Fatah.
—English.AlJazeera.net, December 28, 2008