• Sunday, October 26, 2014

Israel widens Gaza assault

Death toll hits 135; UN Security Council calls for ceasefire

Agencies

Israel widened its air assault against the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers yesterday, hitting a mosque, Hamas-affiliated charities and an Islamic home for the disabled, as Palestinians said the death toll from the five-day offensive rose to 135.
While Israel vowed to press forward with its 5-day-old campaign, it found itself facing growing international calls to stop.
In New York, the UN Security Council unanimously called for a cease-fire, while Britain's foreign minister said he would be discussing cease-fire efforts with his American, French and German counterparts yesterday.
The 15-member Security Council issued a press statement calling for de-escalation, restoration of calm and a resumption of Mideast peace talks.
The press statement, which is not legally binding but reflects international opinion, was the first response by the UN's most powerful body, reports AP.
Israel's aerial campaign -- the largest and deadliest since 2012 -- saw strikes start early yesterday, including one that killed two nephews of Gaza's former Hamas premier, Ismail Haniya.
Rockets fired from Gaza targeted Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with several intercepted over Israel's commercial capital and Jerusalem-bound projectiles hitting two southern West Bank cities.


Hundreds of rockets have so far caused no Israeli deaths, and many have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system.
An Israeli military said it has struck more than 1,100 targets, including Hamas rocket launchers, command centres and weapon manufacturing and storage facilities, in a bid to stop relentless rocket fire coming Gaza.
The central Gaza mosque was being used to conceal rockets like those militants have fired nearly 700 times toward Israel over the past five days, the military said.
However, the strikes in the densely populated Gaza Strip show the challenge Israel faces as it considers a ground operation that could potentially pose further dangers to civilians.
The Israeli army warned Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip to "leave their homes for their own safety," the military said in a statement last night.
"Tonight we will send messages to northern Gaza residents urging them to leave their homes for their own safety. It's unsafe to be near Hamas," the statement said.
Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said Israeli strikes raised the death toll there to 135, with more than 920 wounded. Among the dead was a nephew of Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas leader, who was killed in an airstrike near his home, Hamas officials said.
Hamas militants have been hit hard. Though the exact breakdown of casualties remains unclear, dozens of the dead also have been civilians. Israel has also demolished dozens of homes it says are used by Hamas for military purposes.
"Am I a terrorist? Do I make rockets and artillery?" screamed Umm Omar, a woman in the southern town of Rafah whose home was destroyed in an airstrike. It was not immediately known why the building was targeted.
The offensive showed no signs of slowing down yesterday as Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said his country should ready itself for several more days of fighting.
Hamas said it hoped the mosque attack would galvanise support for it in the Muslim world.
The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it hit, saying Hamas hid rockets in it right next to another religious site and civilian homes. It said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militant groups use religious sites to conceal weapons and establish underground tunnel networks, deliberately endangering civilians.
Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, "this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well."
Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed family homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following the Israeli warnings.
The "Iron Dome," a US-funded, Israel-developed rocket defence system, has intercepted more than 130 incoming rockets, preventing any Israeli fatalities so far. A handful of Israelis have been wounded by rockets that slipped through.
Militant rockets have reached further into Israel than ever before, with air raid sirens sounding even in the northern city of Haifa, 100 miles (160 kilometres) away.
An attack on the northern Gaza Strip hit a centre for the handicapped, killing two disabled women and wounding four, the centre's director said.
"They didn't understand what was happening and they were so frightened," Jamila Alaywa said of those inside the care home.
"They fired the rocket and it hit us without any warning."
However, there has been little sign that either side is interested in an immediate end to the hostilities.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told a Tel Aviv news conference he would not end the military campaign until he achieved his goal of stopping the Hamas fire.
"No international pressure will prevent us from striking, with all force, against the terrorist organisation which calls for our destruction," he said.
And Haniya said: "(Israel) is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are (simply) defending ourselves."
The latest conflict unfolded after last month's kidnap and murder of three young Israelis in the occupied West Bank and the brutal revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.
Israel cracked down on Hamas, though the Islamist group declined to confirm or deny involvement in the abductions, and Gaza militants hit back with intensified rocket fire.
Israel says preparations are under way for a possible ground incursion, with tanks and artillery massed along the border and some 33,000 reservists mobilised out of 40,000 approved by the cabinet.

Published: 12:02 am Sunday, July 13, 2014

Last modified: 9:37 pm Sunday, July 13, 2014

TAGS: Gaza Palestinian deaths Security Council members international investigation

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