27th and 28th December 2008. Israeli warplanes dropped a payload of over 100 tonnes of bombs on security sites in the Gaza strip. Hamas security sites. Hamas targets. Hamas weapons warehouses. A police station. Hamas commanders’ homes. At least 270 dead. Over 600 wounded. “The Mideast conflict’s bloodiest assault in decades”.
For their part Hamas and anyone else who happened to own a rocket launcher continued the barrage into Israel. The lone fatality in Israel was in the town of Netivot. Six other people were wounded. According to Israeli army sources, over 300 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israeli targets over the past week.
Among the images that have graced our television screens – plumes of smoke, rubble caused by airstrike on mosque, a man searching through debris, children standing by the former Al Aqsa television station, hospitals receiving casualties, shots from the cockpit of an Israeli plane as it targets what they say is a rocket launcher hidden in a residential area, lots of Israeli spokespeople, not so many Palestinian ones. The latter images have more to do with the practicalities of getting people from Gaza in front of live television signals. People are reluctant to leave their homes to head into Gaza City’s TV studios. Schools are closed due to a three day mourning period set out by the Gaza government for the dead. Hamas police are wearing jackets over their blue uniforms and walking close to walls to avoid being seen and targeted by the Israeli aircraft flying above.
A source inside Gaza informs that one of the headquarters of Palestinian security is located near the central Gaza prison. “This prison contains Fatah prisoners who everybody in the Strip wanted released or relocated after the airstrikes first started. Hamas did not release them. Last night the prison was completely destroyed. Some people got out, but many are still buried under the rubble. I have seen some bodies pulled out. This is a big mistake for Hamas.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas’ bitter political enemy, is in Saudi Arabia along with Chief Palestinian Negotiatior Saeb Erekat. “This is a devastating day, a black day. Today was another war crime committed by Israel and I think that we as Palestinians have to realize that the Gaza Strip, just like the West Bank and Jerusalem, are all occupied territories and the challenge facing all of us is the Israeli occupation. Therefore I call on all the Palestinian political factions, in the name of President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), to participate in the Egyptian efforts to restart a dialogue to put an end to this painful split and unite our ranks.”
In New York, an emergency ring of the UN Security Council was called by Libya on behalf of the Arab Group of countries at the United Nations. They released a statement agreed to by all 15 members of the council including Libya…though it did not specifically mention either the Israeli bombing or the rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas militants. Instead it called for an “immediate halt to all violence” and called on all parties to “immediately stop all military activities” as well as to “address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza and to take all necessary measures, including opening of border crossings, to ensure the continuous provision of humanitarian supplies, including supplies of food, fuel, and provision of medical treatment.”
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian United Nations observer, told journalists there is “no justification for slaughtering hundreds of Palestinian civilians and injuring close to one thousand people. There is no justification whatsoever. Of course our position is very clear, we are against the killing and harming of civilians, regardless of which side of the aisle they stand: whether they are on the Palestinian side, or the Israeli side. But this collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza is inhumane, is immoral and should be stopped immediately.”
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said that the last few days since the end of the cease-fire have been so bad that they “had no choice but to go on a military operation, and the only party to blame is the Hamas. Israel has been effecting its right to self defense, and this is what was happening over the last 24 hours.”
Only a few cars and those brave enough to walk the streets have broken the silence around Gaza in the past 48 hours. Food shops remain open peddling their meager wares. The Israeli Army is on high alert in the West Bank in the event things in Gaza spark reactions from their Fatah-governed cousins. The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Liberation Organisation called for a one-day commercial strike and mourning period in addition to asking Palestinians to take to the streets in peaceful protest.
Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak vowed to expand the operation if necessary. Though he did not expressly mention a ground invasion, infantry and armoured forces were seen heading for the border with Gaza.
This article was originally published on The Comment Factory on 28 December 2008. All rights reserved.