Almost 900 Palestinian deaths have been confirmed in Gaza — and nearly 4,000 Palestinians have been wounded [UPDATE – the UN is reporting this evening 4250 Palestinians injured so far, and at least ten percent in critical conditions]– on the 17th day of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, which started on 27 December, and which is said to be aimed at changing the “security situation” in Israel’s south.
The attacks are continuing.
The AP reported that “Early Monday, Israeli navy gunboats fired more than 25 shells at Gaza City, setting fires and shaking office buildings, including the local bureau of The Associated Press. The military said that in general, the targets are Hamas installations but had no immediate information about the shelling that began just after midnight”. This report can be read in full here.
Yaakov Katz reported in the Jerusalem Post that “Israel dispatched reserve units to the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the IDF was said to be carving out a ‘security zone’ along the border, which it would retain even after an end to the fighting and use to conduct routine patrols aimed at halting rocket attacks against the South … A senior [Israeli] military officer who is commanding forces fighting inside Gaza said on Sunday that Hamas terrorists were trying to cross the line the IDF had created separating northern Gaza from the south. Some attempts to cross the line, he said, were made by Hamas gunmen hiding inside Red Crescent ambulances … On Saturday, flyers were dropped on Gaza City warning residents of a wider offensive. ‘The IDF is not working against the people of Gaza but against Hamas and the terrorists only’, the flyer said. ‘Stay safe by following our orders’.” This report can be seen here .
The Israeli military has spoken for some time of its desire to create “security zones” in the outer periphery of the small and already very over-populated Gaza Strip — one of the most densely-populated places on the planet. It is about 25 miles long and 6 or so miles wide.
Amira Hass reported in Haaretz, after speaking to her contacts in Gaza, that “As of Sunday, the streets of Gaza are full of people fleeing – both from Sheikh Ajleen [to the south of Gaza City], an area with open fields and houses, where battles between Hamas gunmen and Israel Defense Forces soldiers are taking place, but also from nearby neighborhoods. Everyone is carrying his possessions … A relatively small number – some 20,000 – have found refuge in UNRWA schools. Many more have moved in with relatives and friends: in Gaza City, Rafah, Khan Yunis, Beit Hanun and the Nuseirat refugee camp. The military is steadily forcing the areas known as ‘population concentrations’ to move inward, ‘clearing’ areas on the periphery – first the agricultural land, and now the neighborhoods bordering them – and pushing people into an increasingly smaller territory“. This report is posted here.
The Jerusalem office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process reported that as of 17h00 on Sunday, “The number of displaced people staying with host families remains unknown, but reports indicate that it is likely to number in the tens of thousands. According to the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, an estimated 80,000–90,000 people have been displaced, including up to 50,000 children. UNRWA opened four new shelters on 10 January in response to increased demand in Gaza City, Jabalia, and Deir al Balah. UNRWA is currently operating 31 shelters providing refuge to 25,696 people, an increase of over 4,000 from 9 January … Access between northern Gaza and the rest of the territory remains possible only via the coastal road west of the former Israeli settlement of Netzarim and is restricted to humanitarian relief assistance (including ambulances) following coordination with the Israeli authorities“.
The IDF announced this morning that today’s three-hour lull for “humanitarian respite” would be from 10a.m. to 1p.m. — and that a number of trucks would go in from Kerem Shalom and Karni carrying food and medical supplies (but no fuel, apparently)
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza reported on Sunday that the IDF ground operation had expanded over the previous 24 hours, and it accused the IDF of using “incinerating bombs in the areas into which they moved. According to residents of these areas, they have never been subjected to shelling by such kind of shells, which are like inflaming objects that explode and disperse shrapnel. They release white smoke that causes suffocation and fainting”.
From the start of the Operation, which is now in its third week, there have been persistent reports that the IDF was detaining many males, and taking them away for questioning in an unknown location. These men are still under detention.
Yesterday, the PCHR reported that a number of houses in various areas of Gaza have been siezed, and their occupants detained inside, in poor conditions: “Palestinian civilians in these houses have been denied access to food and water, and they have been even used by IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] as human shields during armed clashes with Palestinian resistance groups”.
The PCHR warned that the lives of Palestinian civilians are endangered in light of threats vowed by Israeli political and military officials to expand military operations against the population of the Gaza Strip.
And the PCHR called again for immediate intervention from “the international community” to stop the Israeli attacks, and urged the States Parties to the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War to fulfill their obligations to ensure respect for its provisions — and to search for and to prosecute those responsible for grave breeches of the convention, because such grave breeches constitute war crimes.
The Gaza-based organization also called for investigations into crimes committed by the UN and by the UN Human Rights Council into crimes committed during the on-going attacks, in particular into the reported use of internationally-prohibited weapons against the Palestinian civilian population.
UPDATE: The Agence France Presse news agency is reporting from Oslo that two medics who just returned home to Norway after spending 10 days working at Gaza City’s main hospital — including the often-quoted surgeon, Mads Gilbert — said they believe “Israel is testing a new ‘extremely nasty’ type of weapon in Gaza”.
The AFP report said that ” ‘There’s a very strong suspicion I think that Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons’, Mads Gilbert told reporters at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport, commenting on the kinds of injuries he and his colleague Erik Fosse had seen while working at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza. The two medics, who were sent into the war zone by the pro-Palestinian aid organisation NORWAC on December 31, said they had seen clear signs that Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME), an experimental kind of explosive, were being used in Gaza. ‘This is a new generation of very powerful small explosives that detonates with an extreme power and dissipates its power within a range of five to 10 metres (16-98 feet)’, said Gilbert, 61. ‘We have not seen the casualties affected directly by the bomb because they are normally torn to pieces and do not survive, but we have seen a number of very brutal amputations… without shrapnel injuries which we strongly suspect must have been caused by the DIME weapons'” he added. The weapon ’causes the tissue to be torn from the flesh. It looks very different (from a shrapnel injury). I have seen and treated a lot of different injuries for the last 30 years in different war zones, and this looks completely different’, said Fosse, 58 … Gilbert also accused Israel of having used the weapon in the 2006 Lebanon war and previously in Gaza, and referred to studies showing wounds from the explosive could cause lethal forms of cancer within just four to six months. ‘Israel should disclose what weapons they use and the international community should make an investigation’, he said, stressing the amount of damage apparently caused by the new form of explosive. ‘ We are not soft-skinned when it comes to war injuries, but these amputations are really extremely nasty and for many of the patients not survivable’, he said”. This AFP report is posted here.
Haaretz reported, meanwhile, that 700 protesters (of whom 237 were minors) — all either Israeli Arab citizens or Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem — have been arrested since the start of the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Dozens have been indicted, and 226 are still in custody, according to the Haaretz report. “Most of the protests that led to arrests took place in Jerusalem or the north. Palestinians and Israeli left-wing activists [this terminology ususally means Jewish rather than Arab] claim that in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF has reintroduced the use of a semiautomatic rifle that uses live ammunition to disperse crowds that was banned after the second Intifada. The Ruger .22 rifle was banned following the Al-Aqsa Intifada, in which it was used to break up protests and caused the deaths of a number of Palestinians, including youths and children”. This report can be read in full here.
The Jerusalem Post, however, said Monday that the IDF has back-tracked from an earlier report that there had been a mistake in targetting that resulted in killing about 40 people sheltering in a UNRWA school in Jabalya last week. Later in the week, the JPost wrote, an AP story “reported that Israeli defense officials have said in private that at the time of the attack, the IDF was returning fire at Hamas men who had just fired a rocket at Israel. The army fired three mortar shells, two of which hit the target and one missed by about 30 meters, causing the casualties at the school, whose number the IDF believes was inflated by Hamas”. But, upon following up, the JPost reported that it was told, by IDF Capt. Ishai David, that “We are still sticking by our official position that according to our initial inquiry, the whole thing started when terrorists fired mortar shells from the school compound [at soldiers]. The IDF returned fire to the source, and the unfortunate result was the death of innocent civilians”. David said. Capt. David also told the JPost that in another case as well, there has been no finding that the IDF shot and killed an UNRWA relief truck driver in last week near the Erez crossing. David said that “the initial inquiry indicates that it was not IDF fire that killed him.” This story can be read in full here.
Haaretz today carries a report on the opinion of Prof. Yuval Shany, an expert in international law from Hebrew University’s law faculty, about possible violations during the current IDF operation: “The relevant question, he said, is ‘whether the operation is proportionate to the provocation that led to it. When a single Qassam [rocket] is fired, the state cannot invade and conquer an entire country. There must be a measure of proportion between the action and the reaction. But here, we are not talking about a single Qassam, but about years of Qassams’. Israel, he continued, ‘is permitted to use force to the degree necessary to end the attacks against it. Therefore, it [the operation] is legal as long as it is meant to prevent the attacks’ … However, Shany stressed, by law, Israel would not have the right to use force to effect regime change in the Gaza Strip … Regarding claims that Israel has deprived Gaza of fuel and electricity, and prevented the evacuation of the wounded, Shany said that once Israel has taken control of the Strip, it must enable the population’s humanitarian needs to be met. This includes an obligation to treat the wounded and to supply food, water and electricity. This report can be read in full here.
Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour, who lives and works in the West Bank wrote today on the TPM blog that: “I watch in shock, like the rest of the world, at the appalling death and destruction being wrought on Gaza by Israel; and still it does not stop. Meanwhile, we see a seemingly never-ending army of well-prepared Israeli war propagandists, some Israeli government officials, and many other people self-enlisted for the purpose, explaining to the world the justifications for pulverizing the Gaza Strip, with its 1.5 million inhabitants. Curious about how Israel, or any society for that matter, could justify a crime of such magnitude against humanity, I turned to my Jewish Israeli friends today to hear their take on things. One after another, the theme was the same. The vast majority of Jewish Israelis has apparently bought into the state-sponsored line that Israel was under attack and had no other option available to stop Hamas’ rockets. More frightening is the revelation that many Israelis—including one person who self-identifies as a ‘leftist’—are speaking of accepting the killing of 100,000 or more Palestinians, if need be”.
In his post, Bahour said there were actually plenty of other options, and added that “there is nothing that can justify, by Israel or any other country on this earth, the decision to opt for a crime against humanity as your chosen response. Nothing!” This post can be read in full here.