Gaza Update: Day 7

Israeli warplanes struck around 20 targets in Gaza today, raising the official death toll to 414 within seven days. The United Nations said that at least a quarter of the dead or about 100 civilians are among the dead – many of them women and children. And as MENASSAT reports, the Israeli army has officially banned all news correspondents from entering the Gaza Strip.
gaza leader burning
In Gaza, flames still burned in the ruins of the home of senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayan, who was killed along with members of his family in an air strike on Thursday. © AP

BEIRUT, January 2, 2009 (MENASSAT) – Combined Israel has carried out some 45 airstrikes in the Gaza Strip over the last two days, bringing the death toll to over 410 since Israel began airstrikes against Hamas on December 27.

Airstrikes on Friday killed five Palestinians, including a young teenage boy east of Gaza City and three children - two brothers and their cousin - who were playing in southern Gaza.

Late Thursday, Israel conducted its most senior hit on a Hamas official, Nizar Rayan, party hardliner and senior military commander. Several of Rayan’s wives and children were also killed in the missile attack.

In response, Hamas ordered a "day of wrath" against Israel over the killing, warning it could resume suicide operations against Israel – a move it hasn’t entertained since the assassination of Hamas co-founder Abdel Aziz Al-Rantissi in 2004.

"After the last crime, all options are open to counter this aggression, including martyr operations against Zionist targets everywhere," Hamas official Ismail Radwan vowed after the attack.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza told the Christian Science Monitor, “Hamas has support of 30 to 40 percent of the people in Gaza,” and that percentage will grow after the Israeli offensive ends Abusada said.

“This is a morale blow to Hamas (the death of Radwan), but it isn't going to have a problem finding new leaders. And killing its leaders only makes Hamas more extreme."

"Israel says no humanitarian crisis"

Israel said its air strikes targeted Hamas weapons caches, and anti-aircraft and rocket launching sites, and in a move reminiscent of the Lebanon war the Israeli military is said to have taken precautions against civilian deaths by dropping flyers and telephoning houses in the Gaza strip - some 20 houses – in bid to warn them before airstrikes flattened their homes.

Palestinians and Israeli defense officials have confirmed that sound bombs were also used prior to airstrikes to force people out of their homes.

Despite seven days of airstrikes the Hamas rocket attacks have continued, slightly injuring two people in Israel. Thus far, four people have been killed over the last seven days.

Israeli officials like foreign minister Tzipi Livni have repeatedly told the press there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but spokesperson for the United Nation’s relief operation in Gaza, Christopher Gunness countered Livni’s latest claim on Thursday.

With some 10,000 UN personnel on the ground in Gaza, Gunness said, “We are very well placed to tell whether there is a humanitarian crisis or not.”

UN statistics say that power outages have lasted for as long as 16 hours consecutively, and water is available every 5 to 7 days because water pumps have run out of fuel.

And despite the fact that Israel has let in medical supplies trickle into Gaza in humanitarian aid convoys, “Hospitals and clinics are still seriously strained and infrastructure is breaking down under the strain of the casualties,” Maxwell Gaylord UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian Territories is quoted as saying

"There is a critical emergency right now in the Gaza Strip right now as we speak," said Gaylard. "It is true supplies have been going into the strip, in fact possibly more than in previous weeks, but at the same time there are critical gaps."

Israel did manage on Friday to allow nearly 300 Palestinians with foreign passports through the Erez crossing on the northern Gaza border. Several sources confirm that many of the evacuees were foreign-born women married to Palestinians and their children “mostly Russian or Eastern European” the Israeli foreign ministry said. Spouses who did not hold foreign citizenship were not allowed out.

Israel has been building up artillery, armour and infantry on Gaza's border in an indication the week-old air assault against its Hamas rulers could soon expand with a ground incursion.

International calls for a ceasefire have been growing, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected in the region next week.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday after talks with outgoing US president George W. Bush that the US was working towards a “durable and sustainable ceasefire" in the current conflict in Gaza, heavily criticizing Hamas for “holding the inhabitants of Gaza hostage.”

Press barred from Gaza

With thousands of Israeli soldiers amassed on Gaza’s border waiting for the signal to invade, Hamas' survival will depend on how far Israel is willing to go to obtain its declared objective of crippling the group's ability to fire rockets at Israeli towns and cities, the Associated Press reports.

Israel maintains it has no intention of occupying Gaza after its troops unilaterally pulled out of the Strip in 2005 after 38-years of occupation -suggesting Hamas will be able to cling to power in Gaza, which it violently seized control of in June 2007.

Meanwhile, Israel has barred reporters from entering the Strip since operations began on Dec 27, and on Friday, international journalists demanded unfettered access to Gaza.

The Foreign Press Association, the body representing foreign journalists in Israel and the Palestinian Territories cited an Israeli high court ruling on Friday that said that limited access should be given to reporters – in groups of eight to 12 journalists at a time who must “pool share” their information.

The FPA also condemned police of the West Bank-based administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for arresting journalists and cameramen covering a Hamas demonstration in Ramallah.

Most of Abbas' security forces are members of his Fatah party, which is at bitter odds with Hamas.

'The FPA insists that journalists be allowed free and unfettered access to cover newsworthy events at all times and under all circumstances,' the FPA said, but the Israeli army is enforcing a 48-hour lock-down of the West , with movement in and out of the territory prohibited except for emergencies.