Gaza toll rises as Israel widens invasion
Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel is prepared for a "significant expansion" of the ground invasion in Gaza, after overnight bombardments killed dozens of Palestinians.
The Israeli prime minister on Friday said that he instructed the army to "prepare for the possibility of significantly widening the ground operation".
"We don't want to kill civilians, but Hamas is a terrorist organisation that hides behind human sheilds," said Netanyahu. He added that the ground invasion's stated aim of destroying tunnels used by Hamas fighters could not be done "only from the air".
His comments came after a night of bombing throughout the strip, which killed 24 Palestinians and injured a further 200.
The Israeli army announced that a soldier had been killed, and two others were wounded, in operations inside the Gaza Strip.
The overall death toll has risen to at least 265 Palestinians since the beginning of Israel's operation eleven days ago.
Israeli troops had moved several kilometres into the strip in operations the army said were targeting tunnels used by Hamas, the group which controls Gaza, but the incursions so far appeared limited.
Gaza City resident Ebaa Rezeq told Al Jazeera that while Israeli soldiers remained near the buffer zone, air raids and shelling were continuing to terrify civilians.
In one of the air raids, a building housing local media offices in Gaza City was struck by three bombs. Israel maintains that the offensive is to destabilise Hamas and "demilitarise" Gaza.
Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza, said that the attack was "just a small example of what's been happening here across Gaza Strip all night".
Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker, also in Gaza, said Israeli troops were targeting the tunnels which Palestinian fighters were using.
"Hamas has managed to set up a tunnel - the Gaza under Gaza - which is a new thing that didn't exist in the last conflict".
On Thursday morning, a group of gunmen had tried to enter southern Israel through a tunnel from Gaza. The army said eight of the 13 attackers were killed. The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said it carried out the operation.
Al Jazeera and agencies
Källä Al Jazeera English web
Palestinian journalists under Israeli fire
An Israeli air strike killed Shehab and injured another eight Palestinians on a busy street in Gaza City [Reuters]
Gaza City - With tearful eyes, the Al-Aqsa TV anchorman announced the death of Palestinian journalist Hamed Shehab on Wednesday evening, hit by an Israeli air strike while driving home on Omar al-Mukhtar street.
Shehab, 27, was working for local press company Media 24. He was driving a car that had the letters "TV" affixed to it in large, red stickers when it was struck by an Israeli missile. The bombing, carried out on one of Gaza City’s busiest streets, has triggered fear and rage among journalists in Gaza.
"Such [an] attack is meant to intimidate us. Israel has no bank of targets anymore, except civilians and journalists," Abed Afifi, a cameraman for the Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV channel, told Al Jazeera.
Afifi said Shehab was an independent media professional, and was not affiliated to any political party.
Ving säljer resor till Tel Aviv i Israel. De har redan sju hotell där. Bojkotta hela Ving!
Ett sätt att hålla utkik efter israeliska varor är att kolla på varans streckkodsnummer, det s.k EAN-numret. Israels landsprefix är 729. Tyvärr kan israeliska produkter gömma sig även bakom andra länders landprefix där de kan ha förädlats eller paketerats.
|Aljazeera. 2012-01-13 aljazeera.net/english |
Gaza Lives On
The Israeli blockade may have taken a heavy toll on Gazans, but this film reveals life and hope among the devastation.
Since 2007, most of the approximately 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip have suffered gravely from an intensified land, air and sea blockade imposed by Israel.
The blockade, deemed illegal by the United Nations, was implemented after Hamas, a Palestinian faction labelled a terrorist organisation by Tel Aviv, took control over the territory and ousted Fatah officials from power in the battle of Gaza.
After more than two decades of tight sanctions and even though Israel eased the restrictions on non-military goods in 2010, the blockade continues to take a heavy toll on Gaza's civilian population, with many essential and basic goods banned from being exported or imported. This has led to rampant poverty and a massive unemployment rate in Gaza.
|"The more Israel thinks about wiping out our people and taking our land, the more we are determined to survive. Thank God we are still living. Some people ask how we can survive under this siege. Thank God, here we are."|
Abu Anwar, corn seller
But Gaza once had thriving economy and was a major exporter of key staple foods, including fruits and vegetables, to countries across the world. Israel's policies since the occupation, however, have forced the vast majority of Gazans to rely on foreign humanitarian aid for survival.
According to the UN, about one-third of Gaza's arable land and 85 per cent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to the Israeli blockade.
Abu Anwar Jahjouh, who has worked as a corn seller for the past 15 years and lives in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza, says it is a daily struggle to scrape out a living: "Back in the 1960s, we used to export oranges. Ships would come from Turkey, Spain, Germany and all of Europe. We used to export oranges, lemons, clementines and grapefruits. But those ships stopped coming to Gaza after 1967. No one comes to Gaza anymore. We can't export anything. That's why we started selling corn here on the beach. We sell anything."
Rebuilding ... without materials
The Israeli blockade has also prevented construction materials from entering the Strip, with the exception of some materials intended for internationally-supervised projects.
According to an Oxfam report, in 2008, 95 per cent of Gaza's industrial operations were suspended due to lack of access to material needed for production and the inability to export produced items.
Kamal Khalaf, a construction contractor, said Israel's war on Gaza between 2008 and 2009, in which the UN estimates 60,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, made the blockade much more problematic: "After the siege, the import of construction material into Gaza was banned. We had no cement, no steel, nothing. I stayed for two years with no work. There was nothing to build."
Even construction material needed to build schools has reportedly been blocked from entering the Strip. With half of Gaza's population under the age of 18, children are attending overcrowded schools - with many running multiple shifts - which has severe repercussions for the quality of education they receive.
In addition to this, thousands of children remain displaced from their homes - having lost all that is familiar to them, including clothes, toys, school books and a secure environment.
Israel even bans fishermen from going more than three miles from Gaza's shoreline for "security reasons". Those who breach the rule regularly run the risk of being shot at by Israeli navy patrols. At least seven fishermen have been killed by the Israeli navy in recent years and many more have been injured or arrested.
An underground lifeline
As a result of the blockade, underground tunnels have been Gaza's main lifeline to Egypt and the rest of the world.
"We wanted to live, so we had to look for solutions .... We started to bring sacks of concrete into Gaza through these tunnels. It was exhausting to lift those heavy sacks inside these tunnels," Khalaf says.
As well as being used for the smuggling of goods, the tunnels have also helped reunite families unable to enter Gaza through legal means.
May Wardeh met her husband Mohammad in the West Bank, but had to travel for four days via Jordan to Egypt and then through an underground tunnel to reach Gaza. She says she almost died just to get to him in Gaza, but then they had a big wedding party at the beach and she now lives with her husband in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.
"I thought I'd see a worsening situation in a city full of refugee camps. But when I reached Gaza, I saw something completely different from what I had imagined," Wardeh says, recalling her first day in Gaza.
Sharif Sarhan is a photographer from Gaza who works with several news agencies and international organisations. He is amazed by the Gazans' strength and determination to live their lives and rebuild their city despite the siege and destruction.
"You can always find life and hope in Gaza," he says. "Amid this devastation, you can see that people still want to live."
|Hamas rocket maker killed in raid|
Israeli air raids have killed a Hamas rocket maker and wounded 13 other people in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian faction that rules the territory told Al Jazeera.
Issa Batran, a commander of Hamas' armed wing, was killed overnight after a missile hit his trailer in central Gaza.
A Hamas training camp in Gaza City and smuggling tunnels along Gaza's southern border with Egypt were also hit.
"This is a serious escalation perpetrated by the occupation government [of Israel]," Fawzi Barhoum, the Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
"It is a direct result from the Arabs pushing for direct talks with the Zionists," he said, referring to diplomatic efforts to persuade Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, that he should advance from indirect negotiations to direct talks with Israel in pursuit of a Middle East peace pact – a course that Hamas and other groups in Gaza oppose.
Push for talks
"We call upon the Arab leaders to change their minds about these talks and support Palestinian reconciliation instead," Barhoum said.
Hamas said Batran, who will be buried later on Saturday, was a rocket maker and the head of its military wing in central Gaza.
Israel carried out the air strikes "in response" to a rocket attack on the city of Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast, the Israeli military said in a statement.
Windows of an apartment block were blown out and parked cars were damaged by the rocket, which landed in a residential area, but no one was injured by the blast.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said "Israel takes the firing on Ashkelon very seriously".
A police spokesman said the rocket fired was a 122mm, Chinese-made Grad, with a heavier payload and greater range than the crude, homemade rockets armed Palestinian group were launching almost daily until Israel's three-week military offensive into Gaza 18 months ago.
The rocket attack ended over a year of calm for the Israeli city closest to Gaza.
The Israeli military says it holds Hamas, which governs the coastal Palestinian territory, "solely responsible for terror emanating from the Gaza Strip".
Hamas says it is trying to stop armed groups from firing at Israel, but smaller groups have continued to launch rockets.
Barhoum did not say who was behind the firing of the rocket.
"We do not trust the media of the occupation government. They would fabricate anything to escalate the situation in Gaza," he said.
Israeli media said the government had lodged a protest with the United Nations over the Ashkelon attack.
In a statement, UN Special Co-ordinator Robert Serry said "indiscriminate rocket fire against civilians is completely unacceptable and constitutes a terrorist attack".
Friday's rocket attack and military strikes also came amid a demand from the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva that Israel lift its military blockade of Gaza – imposed since Hamas seized power there in June 2007 – and let an independent fact-finding mission investigate its raid on an aid flotilla on May 31 in which nine activists were killed by Israeli soldiers.
Israel has recently eased restrictions on imports of food and consumer goods to Gaza but insists that the naval blockade must stay in place to help prevent shipment of weapons to hostile groups in the enclave.
|Israel deports aid activists|
The Israeli government has deported to Jordan more than 100 activists seized from the Gaza aid flotilla, and has promised to release the rest of the detainees within 48 hours.
Those freed were mostly from Arab countries and were driven by buses across the Allenby Bridge into Jordan on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said earlier on Tuesday that all of the activists - a total of 682 people from 35 countries – "would be deported immediately".
Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from the Allenby Bridge, said the deported passengers were from a dozen countries, most without diplomatic relations with Israel. Several Al Jazeera employees were among the group.
Nine activists were believed to have been killed when Israeli troops, using helicopters and fast dinghies, stormed the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel of the six-ship convoy dubbed the Freedom Flotilla, on Monday.
The military said it opened fire in self defence when it encountered resistance from activists wielding metal rods and chairs, and released pictures which appeared to show a handful of soldiers being beaten and clubbed by dozens of activists.
But activists' accounts of what happened disputed the Israeli claim.
Huseyin Tokalak, the captain of one of the seized ships who was freed on Tuesday, told a news conference in Istanbul that an Israeli navy ship threatened to sink his vessel before troops boarded and trained their guns on him and his crew.
"They pointed two guns to the head of each of us," Tokalak said.
Others said that the soldiers had opened fire even after passengers had raised the white flag.
Al Jazeera's Mohamed Vall, who was on board the Mavi Marmara and was released into Jordan on Wednesday morning, said the size of the Israeli attack surprised the ship's passengers.
"The Israeli assault took those of us on the ship by complete surprise," Vall said.
"We saw about 30 war vessels surrounding this ship, and helicopters attacking with very luminous bombs."
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has called for "a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards" into the Israeli raid.
It also condemned "those acts which resulted in the loss of ... civilians and many wounded", drawing a sharp response from Israel, which said its foreign minister complained in a telephone call with Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, that it was condemned unfairly for "defensive actions".
In Turkey, a visibly angry prime minister told parliamentary deputies that Israel should "definitely be punished" for its "bloody massacre" of the activists.
"The time has come for the international community to say 'enough'," said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who demanded the immediate lifting of "the inhumane embargo on Gaza".
There were signs, however, that the long-term relationship Israel has had with Turkey – arguably its most important Muslim ally – would endure.
Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, spoke to his Turkish counterpart, Vecdi Gonul, on Tuesday, and they agreed the raid would not affect weapons deals – among them a planned delivery to Turkey of $183m in Israeli drones this summer - defence officials said on condition of anonymity.
Rafah border opened
Amid the international condemnation, Egypt said it was opening the Rafah border it shares with Gaza for the first time in more than a year, to allow in humanitarian aid after a request from the governing Hamas Palestinian faction.
Egypt, in co-ordination with Israel, has rarely opened the border since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
But Israel said it was ready to intercept another aid ship, the Rachel Corrie, that organisers of the Freedom Flotilla planned to send to the Gaza Strip next week.
Netanyahu convened his security cabinet to debate what Israeli critics called a botched raid, and ministers said the naval blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip would continue.
"The opening of a sea route to Gaza would pose a tremendous risk to the security of our citizens. Therefore we continue a policy of a naval blockade," Netanyahu told his ministers.
Israel's security cabinet said in a statement that it "regrets the fact there were deaths in the incident, but lays full responsibility on those who took violent action that tangibly endangered the lives of Israeli soldiers".
It added: "Israel will continue to defend its citizens against the Hamas terror base," referring to Gaza.
No US condemnation
The bloodshed on Monday also put Israel's tense ties with the US under further strain and placed under scrutiny the relationship between the allies.
Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from Istanbul, said Erdogan, in his speech, "mentioned the unmentionable, saying that Israel acts because it has powerful friends".
The US has, thus far, refused to condemn the Israeli raid, with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, telling reporters in Washington DC that "the situation from our perspective is very difficult and requires careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned".
Clinton called on the Israeli government to ease the blockade of Gaza.
"The situation in Gaza is unsustainable and unacceptable. Israel's legitimate security needs must be met just as the Palestinian's legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and regular access to reconstruction materials must also be assured," she said.
In a telephone call with Erdogan, Barack Obama, the US president, expressed his condolences for those killed in the raid - four of them Turks - and reiterated US support for an impartial investigation "of the facts surrounding this tragedy", the White House said.
He also said it was important to find "better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel's security" the White House statement added.