Rocket and missile ranges from Gaza

This map was posted on the Gateway Pundit blog here [the original was made by Israel’s Homefront Command, and English translation was done on the Muqata blog], and it accompanied a post that worries about a possibility — “Beersheba, a city of 186,000, is 40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip and was thought to be out of reach from rocket fire! [but now] the Islamic radicals have the ability to reach Beersheba and potentially the town of Dimona and the Israeli nuclear facilities” — that we already mentioned two days ago here. Map of rocket and missile ranges - from Gateway Pundit blog

The other map below was also posted at Gateway Pundit blog and was sourced to Dore Gold’s JCPA – Jewish Center for Public Affairs here , where there are also other interesting images, dated March 2008, which suggest that all of the launch sites at that time were in the northern Gaza strip, around the Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya area — and not in the Zeitoun area, near Nahal Oz, in the mid-central area of the Gaza Strip, going east from Gaza City, where much action has taken place.

Map of strategic installations and distances from Gaza - from JCPA

A New Year's Day message from Gaza

This SMS from Gaza arrived on a friend’s mobile in Ramallah this morning:

“Look Outside…
F-16s SMILING For you
ABATSHE [Apache = U.S.-made Helicopters] Dancing for you
ZANANA [Israeli pilotless drones] Singing for you
Because I requested them All to wish you

The recipient in Ramallah called his friend, the sender, in Gaza, and demanded, laughing: “What more could you ask for?”…

This is Palestinian humor, he said.

Meanwhile, on the sixth day of Israel’s unprecedented attack on Palestinians today, it has just been reported that Hamas has sent text messages to Israeli cell phones, reading: “Rockets on all cities, shelters will not protect you, Qassam rocket, Hamas”.

Indeed, rockets and missiles fired from Gaza have hit a 60-kilometer radius in Israel this morning, from Ashdod (23 miles up the Mediterranean coast from Gaza) to Beersheeva (28 miles east into Israel’s Negev desert). Within minutes of what was reported as a Grad [Katuysha] missile attack on a building in Ashdod, it was then reported that the IDF had just attacked and destroyed the “terror cell responsible for firing Grad”.

And, on the first day of the new year, Israeli air attacks continue on targets in Gaza — including the Palestinian Legislative Council headquarters in Gaza. An IDF spokesperson’s statement this morning reported that the building houses “Hamas’ Ministry of Justice and Legislative Assembly, both situated in the Tel El-Hawwa government complex. Hamas Government sites serve as a critical component of the terrorist groups’ infrastructure in Gaza.”

The IDF also reported these other targets were hit: “Over five smuggling tunnels along the ‘Philadelphi Route’ [along the Gaza-Egypt border] used by Hamas to smuggle arms and terrorists in and out of Gaza; a weaponry manufacturing and storage facility in central Gaza, under which a tunnel had been dug; a command center of Hamas’ police force in Rafah, as a well as a Hamas coastal authority outpost on the shore adjacent to Gaza City. In addition, the Israel Navy targeted a number of Hamas outposts and rocket launching grounds”.

An IDF update a short while later reported that a number of other targets were also struck today (and it is now only 2p.m. in Jerusalem and Gaza):
“Among them, was the house of Muhamad Fuad Barhud (a senior terror operative in the Resistance Committees) in Jabaliya. Barhud is responsible for the wide array of Grad and Qassam rockets, as well as mortar shells, that are in the northern Gaza Strip, and is funded and supported by Hamas. Among other locations, his house was used as a storage site for various weapons including anti tank missiles, rockets, and explosive devices used by both, the Resistance Committees and Hamas.
The house of another terror operative, Hasin Drairy, was also attacked in the Sabra (northern Gaza Strip). The house was used as a storage site for rockets and mortar shells. The house was also used as a lathe for rocket manufacturing. In addition, a weapon storage facility was attacked in the house of Taufik Abu Ras. Abu Ras is a Hamas terror operative from A-Nusseirat. His house also served as a manufacturing laboratory and a storage site for a wide array of weaponry, including rockets and explosive devices. More than twenty targets were attacked since this morning including weapons storage facilities, rocket launching sites, Hamas terror operatives, and a tunnel used by Hamas. The IDF operation is continuing and will go on for as long as necessary”.

Earlier this week, Gazans reported receiving text messages in Arab from Israel warning them that their homes will be attacked if they are near Hamas targets, or if they keep weapons in their homes.

A demonstration in solidarity with Gaza was called for noon in Ramallah’s central Manara Square. New Year’s eve parties were largely cancelled in Ramallah because of the attacks in Gaza.

Last night, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made an address in which he called off negotiations with Israel — something the chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei’a did earlier in the week — Abbas just waited until almost the last possible minute of the last day of 2008 — the deadline, sort-of, set by the Annapolis Conference on 27 November 2007 for a process of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that was supposed to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian State in 2008 (or, as later amended, by the end final day of the Bush Administration on 20 January 2009…) Abbas also swore to do his best to protect the Pa

Comparisons have been made between the present Israeli offensive in Gaza and the 2006 war Israel waged against Hizballah in Lebanon, that was vastly destructive of a Shi’a quarter in south Beirut, and of civilian infrastructure throughout the southern part of the country.

But the 2006 war was against a Lebanese Shi’a organization — though one that had just acted to support Gazan fighters who had a few days earlier seized IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid near Kerem Shalom, Israel’s preferred border crossing, near the Palestinian international airport it destroyed not once but twice.

A better comparison might be made, for those who still remember such things, with Israel’s full-force 1982 invasion of Lebanon, led by Ariel Sharon, who had an unclear mandate from the Israeli government and appeared to be acting mainly on his own instincts. After brushing the UN force in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, aside with not much more than a wave of the hand, Sharon’s men headed straight for Beirut, which was then the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) “capital within a capital” and the stronghold for Yasser Arafat.

The IDF encircled and strangled East Beirut for weeks — though the situation is no comparison to the Israeli-military-administered blockade of Gaza for the past year. And they bombarded every day, introducing weapons that imploded multi-story apartment buildings in on themselves, killing all occupants, in what they indicated were attempts to assassinate Arafat. Then they accused Arafat and the PLO of hiding behind the skirts of civilians …

For at least two years prior to the 1982 full-force invasion, the IDF conducted regular air raids and bombing attacks on Lebanon, particularly on Beirut.

I was there during one such period in the spring of 1980. During a three-week period, it was impossible to move because of the frightening daily air attacks on Beirut. The airport was closed, and there was no exit. I was invited to dinner a family’s apartment in what I recall was an 8-story (though it was possibly 10 stories) building in the central Palestinian area, around Arafat’s Beirut offices. The wife had prepared stuffed grape leaves. We were all sitting around the table, when a severe bombing attack began. “Don’t you move to the bomb shelter in the basement during these attacks”, I asked cautiously. The wife and husband looked at each other, and at their two young kids. Then, she replied: “The basement is full of ammunition. If this building is hit, we all go straight to God”. And we continued the meal.

It was one of the most delicious meals ever.

Day three: Israel presses attacks on Gaza

The death toll in Gaza rose to at least 307 persons on Monday morning, as Israeli presssed its air attacks on Gaza, and mobilized reserve troops and tank units.

UPDATE: Casualties rose in Gaza throughout the day Monday, and stood at 370 dead by nightfall, as severely wounded people succombed to their injuries, and as Israeli attacks continued. At least 1400 Gazans have been wounded.

A second Israeli death from Palestinian reprisal rocket attacks from Gaza was also reported Monday morning, when “projectiles” landed near a cultural center in downtown Ashkelon, a coastal city of some 120,000 people. It is the first death from Palestinian attack in Ashkelon, and it is apparently considered somewhat significant in Israel that the person killed by Palestinian fire in Ashkelon today was an Israeli Arab [i.e., therefore, in this context, Palestinian] construction worker. Later, Haaretz reported that the victim was a Bedouin.

UPDATE: Two more Israelis were killed by Palestinian shelling on Monday night — A woman was killed Monday evening in a Grad (or Katyusha) missile attack on Ashdod, a major coastal city with an important port installation north of Ashkelon. And someone was killed by a Qassem rocket attack on Nahal Oz — presumably the Kibbutz which is right next to the major fuel transfer point into Gaza.

A short while later, Kassam rockets landed in the smaller, and more interior, town of Sderot, with preliminary reports of injuries.

The IDF has now reportedly declared Israel’s “Gaza borderline communities”, around the perimeter of the Gaza Strip, a closed military zone. On Monday evening, rockets and missiles rained down on Israeli areas north and northeast of the Gaza strip.

The Associated Press reported that “Israel’s air force obliterated symbols of Hamas power on the third day of its overwhelming assault on Gaza on Monday … Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak told Israel’s parliament in a special session that Israel was not fighting the residents of Gaza ‘but we have a war to the bitter end against Hamas and its branches’. This AP report can be viewed in full here.

Israel’s Foreign Minister and Vice Prime Minister Tzipi Livni told the Knesset that “Since this past Saturday morning, Israel has been fighting the terrorist rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip in order to change the security situation in Israel”.

Reuters reported from London that “Oil prices rose above $40 a barrel on Monday, boosted by the weak dollar and violence between Israel and Hamas that served as a reminder of tensions that could threaten crude supplies from the Middle East”.

Israel has offered (without much explanation) to permit some of the people wounded in its IDF attacks to enter Israel for medical care in Israeli hospitals. It is not clear if any of the wounded have yet accepted this offer — but there are unconfirmed reports that a few small children, apparently unaccompanied and without even a change of clothing, have arrived from Gaza — or are about to arrive — at East Jerusalem’s Palestinian hospitals for urgent treatment. Others may be transferred to the West Bank.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas issued his strongest condemnation yet of the operation, according to the AP, calling it a “sweeping Israeli aggression against Gaza”. AP also reported what appears to be a major turnaround: Abbas also said he would consult with Hamas in an effort to end the attacks. Until now, Abbas has refused to talk to Hamas, following the ouster of Fatah security forces in Gaza in mid-June 2007 , and has insisted that Hamas must reverse the situation and restore the status quo ante, first. However, it might not be so significant: Ma’an News Agency reported merely that Abbas, at a meeting of the PLO executive committee, “urged all factions, including Hamas, to take part in consultations about Gaza”. On Sunday, Abbas reportedly said that Hamas could have prevented Israel’s assault had it only agreed to extend the cease-fire, and he urged it to do so now.

Earlier Monday, the IDF announced it is allowing the shipment of some 80 truckloads of humanitarian supplies [n.b. these are not donations from Israel] into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing where the borders of Israel, Gaza, and the Egyptian Sinai intersect.

The Erez crossing into Gaza remains closed, the Foreign Press Association advised its membership. The press group reported that its request, submitted on Sunday to Israel’s Supreme Court, for an interim order allowing immediate access to Gaza for foreign journalists “was refused on grounds of being granted the hearing on Wednesday morning, now set for 9.30 am”.

The IDF sent out a message on Monday morning, saying that “The Israeli Air Force attacked a number of Hamas targets during the night, including Hamas outposts, weapon manufacturing facilities and a center for weapon research and development. The center, located in the Rimel neighborhood of Gaza City, was targeted in a combined IDF and the ISA operation, [as] the IAF struck buildings that were used as meeting places for senior leaders of Hamas. One of the structures struck housed explosives laboratories that were an inseparable part of Hamas’ research and development program, as well as places that served as storage facilities for the organization. The development of these weapons took place under the auspices of senior lecturers who are activists in Hamas. Among the weapons that have been developed and manufactured at this site are Qassam rockets. Hamas has been working tirelessly to extend the range of the rockets, as has been shown during the past few days”.

This IDF announcement adds, tellingly, that “In February 2007 the Fatah Presidential Guard raided the facility and uncovered many weapons including approximately 100 Qassam rockets, 250 RPG launchers, hundreds of assault rifles, lathes, and materials used for rocket manufacturing”.

The Associated Press reported this morning that “Hamas leaders were forced into hiding, most of the dead were from the Hamas security forces, and Israel’s military intelligence chief said Hamas’ ability to fire rockets had been reduced by 50 percent. Indeed, Hamas rockets fire dropped off sharply, from more than 130 on Saturday to just over 20 on Sunday. Still, Hamas continues to command some 20,000 fighters. Israel’s intense bombings — some 300 air strikes since midday Saturday — wreaked unprecedented destruction in Gaza, reducing entire buildings to rubble. After nightfall, Israeli aircraft attacked a building in the Jebaliya refugee camp next to Gaza City, killing a 14-month-old baby, a man and two women, Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said. In the southern town of Rafah, Palestinian residents said a toddler and his two teenage brothers were killed in an airstrike aimed at a Hamas commander. Israeli aircraft also bombed the Islamic University and government compound in Gaza City, centers of Hamas power, and the house next to the residence of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a Gaza City refugee camp. Haniyeh, in hiding, was not home … Gaza’s nine hospitals were overwhelmed”.

This AP report added that “The [U.S.] White House was mum about the situation in Gaza on Sunday after speaking out expansively on Saturday, blaming Hamas for provoking Israel’s retaliatory strikes”.

Dore Gold, a former Israeli Ambassador to the UN (1997-99), is now President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has just written an article attempting to refute criticism of the Israeli attacks on Gaza as being “disproportionate” — a violation of international law. Gold writes that “Israel is currently benefiting from a limited degree of understanding in international diplomatic and media circles for launching a major military operation against Hamas on December 27. Yet there are significant international voices that are prepared to argue that Israel is using disproportionate force in its struggle against Hamas … The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetuate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel ‘s current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it. (Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza.) When international legal experts use the term ‘disproportionate use of force’, they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague , Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality ‘cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury – it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression’. (Her arguments were cited in ‘Responding to Hamas Attacks from Gaza – Issues of Proportionality Background Paper’, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 2008.)

Gold’s argument continues: “In other words, if a state, like Israel , is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it. By implication, force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians. The pivotal factor determining whether force is excessive is the intent of the military commander. In particular, one has to assess what was the commander’s intent regarding collateral civilian damage … What was critical from the standpoint of international law was that if the attempt had been made ‘to minimize civilian damage, then even a strike that causes large amounts of damage – but is directed at a target with very large military value – would be lawful’. Numbers matter less than the purpose of the use of force. Israel has argued that it is specifically targeting facilities serving the Hamas regime and its determined effort to continue its rocket assault on Israel : headquarters, training bases, weapons depots, command and control networks, and weapons-smuggling tunnels. This way Israel is respecting the international legal concept of proportionality. Alternatively, disproportionality would occur if the military sought to attack even if the value of a target selected was minimal in comparison with the enormous risk of civilian collateral damage. This point was made by Luis Moreno-Orampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on February 9, 2006, in analyzing the Iraq War. He explained that international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ‘permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks [emphasis added] against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur’. The attack becomes a war crime when it is directed against civilians (which is precisely what Hamas does) or when ‘the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage’. In fact, Israeli legal experts right up the chain of command within the IDF make this calculation before all military operations of this sort.

Gold also wrote: “Moving beyond the question of international law, the charge that Israel is using a disproportionate amount of force in the Gaza Strip because of reports of Palestinian casualties has to be looked at critically. Israelis have often said among themselves over the last seven years that when a Hamas rocket makes a direct strike on a crowded school, killing many children, then Israel will finally act. This scenario raises the question of whether the doctrine of proportionality requires that Israel wait for this horror to occur, or whether Israel could act on the basis of the destructive capability of the arsenal Hamas already possesses, the hostile declarations of intent of its leaders, and its readiness to use its rocket forces already”.

Meanwhile, Israeli-American activist Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICADH), has also written on the massive and unprecedented Israeli attacks on Gaza that started Saturday — and on Israeli justification for those attacks — saying that “[T]he occupation, in which Israel controls Gaza under a violent siege that violates fundamental human rights and international law, is not even mentioned in Israel’s PR campaign. Speaking to the international community, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni insists that no country would tolerate its citizens being attacked, a seemingly reasonable statement were it not for Israeli sanctions on Gaza, supported by the US and Europe–sanctions that preceded the rocket fire on Israel–or the fact of the Israeli occupation, in general. Solely focusing on the rocket attacks conceals the political policy that led to them: ‘The Hamas government in Gaza must be toppled’, Livni has said repeatedly. ‘The means to do this must be military, economic and diplomatic’. The responsibility for the suffering both in Israel and Gaza rests squarely with successive Israeli governments; Labor, Likud and Kadima alike. Had there been a genuine political process (remember, the closure of Gaza began in 1989), Israelis and Palestinians could have been living together in peace and prosperity for 20 years. After all, already in 1988 the PLO accepted the two-state solution, in which a Palestinian state would arise on only 22 percent of historic Palestine, alongside the state of Israel on the other 78 percent. A truly generous offer. In Israel, however, the effort is to hide its preference for control over peace. Framing its attacks as a response to rockets from Gaza, exploiting an immediate trigger to effectively conceal deeper political intentions and policies, does that. It also conceals Israeli violations of the ceasefire. The fact that the rocket attacks could have been avoided altogether through a genuine political process means that the people of southern Israel are being held hostage by their government, as well. Their suffering, and the suffering of the people of Gaza and the rest of the occupied territories, must be placed squarely at the feet of the Israeli government”.

Halper also wrote: “We call on the Israeli government to end its aggression immediately and enter into genuine political negotiations with a united Palestinian leadership. We call on the international community to end its sanctions on Gaza immediately in accordance with international law, initiate an effective political process to end the Israeli occupation and bring about a just peace, which reflects the will of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples”.

Tom Segev — one of Israel’s most respected historians — wrote in Haaretz that “Israel is striking at the Palestinians to ‘teach them a lesson’. That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom – via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey. The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to ‘liquidate the Hamas regime’, in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a ‘moderate’ leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations. As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over. All of Israel’s wars have been based on yet another assumption that has been with us from the start: that we are only defending ourselves. ‘Half a million Israelis are under fire’, screamed the banner headline of Sunday’s Yedioth Ahronoth – just as if the Gaza Strip had not been subjected to a lengthy siege that destroyed an entire generation’s chances of living lives worth living. It is admittedly impossible to live with daily missile fire, even if virtually no place in the world today enjoys a situation of zero terror. But Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians”. Tom Segev’s article can be read in full in Haaretz here .

To prove the point, Haaretz reported in another story that the Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qureia said to journalists at a press conference in Abu Dis that “There are no negotiations and there is no way there could be negotiations [with Israel] while there are attacks against us”.

Amira Hass reported in Haaretz that “At noon Sunday, the Israel Air Force bombed a compound belonging to Gaza’s National Security Service. It houses Gaza City’s main prison. Three prisoners were killed. Two were apparently Fatah members; the third was convicted of collaborating with Israel. Hamas had evacuated most of the Gaza Strip’s other prisons, but thought this jail would be safe. At 12 A.M. on Sunday, a phone call roused S. ‘I wasn’t sleeping anyway’, he said. ‘I picked up the receiver and heard a recorded announcement in Arabic: “This is to warn you that we will bomb the house of anyone who has arms or ammunition at home” ‘… S. saw the results of some of Saturday’s bombings when he visited a friend whose office is located near Gaza City’s police headquarters. One person killed in that attack was Hassan Abu Shnab, the eldest son of former senior Hamas official Ismail Abu Shnab. The elder Abu Shnab, whom Israel assassinated five years ago, was one of the first Hamas politicians to speak in favor of a two-state solution. Hassan worked as a clerk at the local university and played in the police band for fun. He was performing at a police graduation ceremony on Saturday when the bomb struck. ‘”Seventy policemen were killed there, not all Hamas members’, said S., who opposes Hamas. ‘And even those who supported Hamas were young men looking for a job, a salary. They wanted to live. And therefore, they died. Seventy in one blow. This assault is not against Hamas. It’s against all of us, the entire nation. And no Palestinian will consent to having his people and his homeland destroyed in this way’.” Amira Hass’ article can be read in full here .

Nir Rosen wrote in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian newspaper in London that “The democratically elected Hamas government was targeted for destruction from the day it won the elections in 2006. The world told the Palestinians that they cannot have democracy, as if the goal was to radicalise them further and as if that would not have a consequence. Israel claims it is targeting Hamas’s military forces. This is not true. It is targeting Palestinian police forces and killing them, including some such as the chief of police, Tawfiq Jaber, who was actually a former Fatah official who stayed on in his post after Hamas took control of Gaza. What will happen to a society with no security forces?” Nir Rosen’s article can be read in full here .

There was a colorful and vigorous standoff between two groups of students at rival demonstrations just outside the main gate to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University Mount Scopus Campus at mid-day on Monday. On the sidewalk next to the university was the pro-Israel-attack group of demonstrators, waving white and blue Israeli flags in the bright sunshine. They were shouting, chanting, beating drums and blowing whistles, trying to drown out the equally vigorous and noisy pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the opposite sidewalk, who waved a few green, red, black and white Palestinian flags. Most of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators were Israeli Arabs or Palestinians, but they were joined by some blond Israelis as well. They were shouting and chanting in both Arabic and Hebrew. Some of the pro-Palestinian group carried posters with hastily-attached color photos of scenes of the dead and wounded in Gaza, and one carried a poster with the words “Who wants another holocaust” scrawled in English in black marker, while other signs were written in Hebrew. Despite the animation and the energy being expended, there was no hostility. The two groups were separated by police and border police and special forces personnel, standing in the road, looking relaxed and somewhat bemused — despite the tensions in other areas of Jerusalem.

Students protest in Jerusalem  Photo: Ronen Medzizni - on YNet

Day Two: Israeli attacks on Gaza continue

Targets in Gaza — including a mosque and Al-Aqsa television studios — were bombarded overnight and early on Sunday morning in Gaza. The number of casualties reported so far has not yet reached the double digits — far fewer than Saturday’s total, which was raised to 270 overnight.

The figures were revised during the day Sunday, upward to at least 285 dead and at least 900 wounded.

At the same time, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered a limited opening of Kerem Shalom crossing for the delivery of humanitarian supplies [n.b. though these are not a donation from Israel, however, but paid either by the Palestinians or by international donors] to the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely-populated areas on earth.

But the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Isael informed its members early Sunday morning that Erez crossing into Gaza is “Closed to journalists today”.

The press group informed its members that its lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court on Sunday morning for an interim injunction to open Erez to the foreign press immediately. And in a statement, the FPA demanded “immediate access for journalists to the Gaza Strip from the Israeli authorities in light of the current situation, which is of great interest to news consumers worldwide”. The statement said that “Because of the ongoing ban on journalists entering Gaza even during this period, the FPA has asked the Israeli Supreme Court to intervene”.

And, rockets fired from Gaza have reportedly reached as far north as the coastal city of Ashdod, one of Israel’s two major ports (the other is Haifa in the north), for the first time. The coastal city of Ashkelon, with major petroleum and electricity installations, was also hit. The IDF is reportedly calling up reserve tanks and troops in the south of the country to prepare for a ground invasion.

The United Nations Security Council met for emergency closed-door talks on Saturday night in New York, and members called, in a statement issued to the press, for an immediate halt to all violence and an immediate stop to all military activities. The Security Council also called for all parties to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza and to take 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.

In a separate statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on Israel to lift the air, sea and ground blockade imposed on the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. She also called for “independent outside monitoring” of the situation in Gaza — including by the UN Special Rapportuer on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied by Israel since 1967, Richard Falk.

Falk, a Professor Emeritus of International Law, was recently denied entry into Israel and, after a very unpleasant night, then unceremoniously deported from Ben Gurion International Airport, because of what the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said were Israel’s objections to his mandate (voted by the members of the UN Human Rights Council), as well as their objections to his past statements and positions.

Falk issued his own statement on the on-going Israeli attacks on Gaza, saying that “The Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip represent severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war”. Falk said that these severe violations include: collective punishment, the targetting of civilians, and a disproportionate military response. He also said that the unlawful rocket attacks from Gaza on civilian targets in Israel, illegal as they are, “does not give rise to any Israeli right, neither as the Occupying Power nor as a sovereign state, to violate international humanitarian law and commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in its response”.

Falk denounced Israel’s earlier “complete sealing off of entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip”. And he added that “The Israeli airstrikes today [Saturday], and the catastrophic human toll that they caused, challenge those countries that have been and remain complicit, either directly or indirectly, in Israel’s violations of international law”. Falk said that countries who knowingly provided the military equipment including warplanes and missiles used in these illegal attacks, and/or who supported and participated in the siege of Gaza that itself has caused a humanitarian catastrophe, are indeed complicit.

He called on the UN system, and all UN member states, to develop new approaches on an emergency basis that would provide real protection to the Palestinian people — because, he said, the UN continues to be bound to an independent obligation to protect any civilian population facing massive violations of international humanitarian law – regardless of what country may be responsible for those violations.

The current President of the UN General Assembly — which could be called upon to consider the situation if the Security Council fails to act or is unable to do so — Miguel d’Escoto Brockman of Nicaragua, said in a separate statement that “the behavior by Israel in bombarding Gaza is simply the commission of wanton aggression by a very powerful State against a territory that [it] illegally occupies … [T]he time has come to take firm action if the UN does not want to be rightly accused of complicity by omission.”

Other international organizations also spoke out. The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that Gaza’s hospitals are overwhelmed and unable to cope with the scale and type of injuries that continue to come in. The ICRC said the first priority is to get more medical supplies to Gaza’s hospitals, right away — as stocks of supplies and medicines were already severely depleted due to the difficulty in bringing medical items into the Strip as the Israeli-military-administered blockade tightened over the past year. The ICRC also reminded the parties to the hostilities of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law at all times, and added that “international humanitarian law requires that a clear distinction be drawn between the civilian population and civilian objects on the one side, and military objectives on the other side”. And it said that the parties are obligated to take all feasible precautions in order to spare the civilian population from the effects of hostilities., and to protect medical facilities and personnel.

Amnesty International said that “Such disproportionate use of force by Israel is unlawful and risks igniting further violence in the whole region, and that “Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, for their part, share responsibility for the escalation. Their continuous rocket attacks on towns and villages in southern Israel are unlawful and can never be justified”.

Amnesty International also said that “The international community must intervene without delay to ensure that civilians caught up in the violence are protected and that the blockade on Gaza is lifted.” And it added that Gaza residents experienced little or no improvement to their lives during the recent five-and-a-half-month ceasefire between Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, because of the Israeli blockade.

Back in Jerusalem, officials of Israel’s Foreign Ministry met Sunday, according to a statement they issued, “with representatives from UNSCO, UNRWA, the Red Cross and WHO for the purpose of estimating the humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip and ensuring the entry of the required aid, especially food and medical equipment. The Ministry officials assured the representatives of the international organizations that every effort would be made to transfer the necessary humanitarian aid.
In response to a request made by the international organizations, the Kerem Shalom Crossing was opened for the delivery of truckloads of food and medical equipment. The aid was donated by UNRWA, WHO and the Red Cross”.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that “Yesterday, the State of Israel began military operations in the area of the Gaza Strip in order to restore normal life and quiet to residents of the south who – for many years – have suffered from unceasing rocket and mortar fire and terrorism designed to disrupt their lives and prevent them from enjoying a normal, relaxed and quiet life, as the citizen of any country is entitled to”.

And Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel briefed the press after the weekly ministerial meeting. Among other things, the Cabinet Secretary said: “IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi referred to the situation in the south. Most of the Palestinians’ 230-250 casualties are uniformed, armed Hamas personnel. [n.b., photos show that many were not armed at the time they were killed.] The IDF knew in advance that the next step will be an attempt by Hamas to respond by firing at Israeli communities and, therefore, launch sites were attacked in the second wave. The IDF will continue with the operation, as it was approved by the political leadership, while deploying for as long as may be necessary, and with all necessary means, and will operate, in the coming days, to call up additional reservists. ISA (Internal Security Agency) Director Yuval Diskin reiterated that the mood among a not unsubstantial part of the Palestinian population understands that the operation is against Hamas, which has inflicted great suffering on the residents of Gaza. Shock among the Hamas leadership is high. However, it views the assault as a first blow and is looking to carry out actions that will change the picture. There is no intention to harm the population or make life in the Gaza Strip difficult and, therefore, humanitarian aid will be given, and even expanded, according to directives from the political leadership. ISA Director Diskin reiterated the need for patience and determination. Hamas is yet to respond and may even try to surprise us. Israel Police Inspector-General Cohen said that the Israel Police is concentrating on three foci: the home front, disturbances to law and order, and the prevention of terrorism. Deployment is nationwide, alert levels are high and steps are being taken to maintain public order.”

Despite all this, Herb Keinon wrote in the Jerusalem Post today that “Israel is feeling ‘no real pressure’ from the world to end the operation in the Gaza Strip, and the amount of time the international community will sit relatively quietly on the sidelines depends on how things develop, senior diplomatic officials said Sunday … The seeming contradiction between the officials’ comments about unprecedented international support, an assessment widely echoed throughout the diplomatic and security echelon on Sunday, and the harsh statements beginning to issue from capitals around the world was chalked up to a difference between what is being said in public and in private … Israeli officials maintain that there is ‘greater understating than you can imagine’ for Israel’s actions …
Israeli officials pointed to the tepid statement that emerged from the UN Security Council as proof that serious pressure on Israel to end the operation had not yet begun … One senior diplomatic official in Jerusalem said this was an extremely low-key statement, both in the manner in which it was delivered – as a press statement and not a resolution – and in the language. This report can be read in full

The JPost story added that the first, if not only, “concrete diplomatic casualty of the operation may be the indirect, Turkish-mediated talks with Syria. According to the Syrian press, Syria notified Turkey it was ceasing all indirect talks with Israel as a result of the operation … [But] Neither officials in the Prime Minister’s Office nor Turkish diplomatic officials contacted by The Jerusalem Post could confirm the message.

An Israeli Air Force attack on some 40 tunnels along the Egyptian-Gazan border near Rafah on Sunday caused breaches in the wall that Egypt had constructed to pen the Palestinians in after their ten-day shopping spree and family visiting last January. Hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians again surged into the Egyptian Sinai. Ma’an News Agency reported that “The tunnels, about a quarter of which are now destroyed, are the only means by which Gazans have to obtain food, fuel and other necessities. Israel has closed the Strip’s crossings for all but a week and a half since its 4 November invasion of the area…”

An astonishing — but not surprising — story by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post on Sunday reports that “Palestinian Authority [PA] officials in Ramallah said Saturday that they were prepared to assume control over the Gaza Strip if Israel succeeds in overthrowing the Hamas government. ‘Yes, we are fully prepared to return to the Gaza Strip’, a top PA official told The Jerusalem Post. ‘We believe the people there are fed up with Hamas and want to see a new government’. Another PA official said Fatah had instructed all its members in the Gaza Strip to be prepared for the possibility of returning to power. ‘We have enough men in the Gaza Strip who are ready to fill the vacuum’, he said. ‘But of course all this depends on whether Israel manages to get rid of the Hamas regime’. The two officials voiced hope that the current IDF operation would end Hamas rule in Gaza. They said that the PA was also prepared to dispatch security forces from the West Bank to replace the Hamas militiamen”. This JPost report can be read in full

UPDATE: Al-Jazeera International reported on Monday that Fatah and PA officials say they will not talk to Israel as long as this offensive is going on.

Protests against the IDF attacks continued on Sunday in the occupied West Bank (where the major Qalandia checkpoint — or as Israel’s Defense Ministry prefers to call it “border crossing” — was the scene of rock-throwing, to which the Border Police and soldiers at Qalandia responded with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets), and in Israeli-Arab towns in the north and center of the country (including Lod, near Ben Gurion International Airport), as well as in East Jerusalem.

If the devastating Israeli attacks on Gaza result in the restoration of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority to power, and the ouster of Hamas, in Gaza, then these protests would not be directed only at Israel. And they could well grow.

What words?

Rockets and Mortars fired from Gaza from June-Dec 2008 - The Israel Project

The question has to be asked: in this graphic, sent out by email tonight from The Israel Project as part of a message entitled “Israel Defends Citizens from Hamas”, the number of “projectiles” fired from Gaza in December (through 18 December) was 120, fewer than the number in November (150), and far fewer than the number fired last June (260 on this chart), when the cease-fire (tahdiya) between Israel and Hamas began, so why now?

Even if you add the additional “projectiles” fired in the week since the cease-fire (and the graphic) ended (and it’s hard to keep score), you probably still wouldn’t come up to the June total.

[UPDATE: Perhaps I stand corrected. The Associated Press is now reporting (on Sunday morning in Jerusalem) that “The Israeli army says Palestinian militants have fired some 300 rockets and mortars at Israeli targets over the past week … ” This report can be viewed here.]

It is, of course, clearly intolerable for anyone to live under attack, with the threat of constant fear of bombing and shelling.

In any case, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas out of the country (out of Ramallah and of the West Bank), his appointed Prime Minister is taking the reins. Ramattan News Agency came off its strike to report that “Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian government in Ramallah, condemned the Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip and asked Israel to stop immediately. Fayyad stated that his government is in an urgent meeting to follow-up on the developments in the Strip during the Israeli strikes, while emphasizing that it is exerting all effort to make sure that attacks come to an end. Fayyad pointed out that the government is carrying a number of procedures and important steps regarding the incidents in Gaza, stating that a state of emergency has been called in the Ministry of Health and all health institutions in the Strip, instructing all doctors, including the retirees, to go to the hospitals and clinics to assist in aiding the victims”.

This would mean that Fayyad has ordered the Fatah loyalists who have been on strike against the Ministry of Health in Gaza to go back to work — even with Hamas — to deal with the emergency situation. (Ramattan News Agency’s website has itself been on strike, mainly against harassment by the PA in Ramallah, and it went back to work today because of the attacks).

Ma’an News Agency reported on Saturday night that “Not a single Gazan turned up at Rafah crossing Saturday despite an Egyptian promise to open the crossing and accept wounded Palestinians for treatment in Egyptian Hospitals. Between three and six hundred Palestinians were injured in Israeli airstrikes throughout the day, and Palestinian hospitals have almost entirely run out of medical supplies. The dead were carried home in cardboard boxes because Gaza City hospitals ran out of sheets. Palestinian medical sources said mild to moderate cases were turned away for lack of doctors and supplies, and reported bodies in hallways after morgues filled up. Despite Egypt’s offer to accept wounded Gazans medical sources said the condition of most of the injured was too fragile to make the trip to Rafah. Only if Egypt sent helicopters would the majority of serious cases be able to accept the offer, said Head of Emergency and Ambulance Services in the Ministry of Health Muawiya Hassanain.
Hassanain appealed to Arab states to send medical supplies so cases could be treated without being moved”. This report is posted here .

Elsewhere on its website, Ma’an said that “Medical sources say most victims are arriving to Gaza City hospitals in ‘pieces’,” and that “Hospital corridors are filled with bodies and gurneys, and local morgues have run out of space”.

And, in a report on the scene in Gaza City’s main hospital — which, like all the hospitals and clinics in Gaza, is running out or has run out of many needed materials — Ma’an says that “Death shrouds the hallways of Gaza City’s Ash-Shifa medical compound Saturday, its smell creeping in from all corners. Amputated bodies are strewn throughout hallways because morgues in the city can no longer accommodate the dead. In one corner a man stands with his seven year old son in a cardboard box because the hospital ran out of sheets to cover the dead with. This is how he will carry him home and bury him. Another man stands dazed, in shock after watching his son Mohammed killed during his graduation ceremony at the de facto police headquarters. The father of one of Mohammed’s classmates stood next to his son as he was decapitated. The man is still screaming. In the packed hospital waiting room a mother sits silently staring into the distance; her son was pronounced dead shortly after she brought him in … Twelve year old Ayman is screaming at his father who tries to prevent him from seeing the bodies of his uncle and brother, torn to pieces under sheets. ‘I’m not afraid to see them’, he screamed. In a rage as his father holds tight, Ayman catches the hand of a resistance fighter; ‘shell and kill them as they did to us’, he says…” This report can be read in full here.

In Israel’s perimeter communities just on the other side of the Gaza border, the Associated Press (AP) reported that “Streets were nearly empty in Sderot, the Israeli border town pummeled hardest by rockets. But dozens of people congregated on a hilltop to watch the Israeli aerial attacks”. How did they feel? Probably not too differently from the next door-neighbor of the man killed in nearby Netivot on Sunday, in retaliatory Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza, who told the AP that “We need to finish this once and for all and strike back hard”. This AP story can be read in its entirety here.

Samuel Sockol and two special corespondents in Gaza (Islam Abedel Kareem and Reyham Abdel Kareem)reported in the Washington Post today that after the earlier IDF air attacks on Gaza, “Many people were reported still trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings”. Their story in the Washington Post added that “The attack was condemned by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank. Yasser Abed Rabbo, general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who is close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas … said prisoners from Fatah and other Palestinian factions opposing Hamas, who were held in the Hamas installations, were also killed as result of the strikes … One of the installations hit was the Arafat Academy of Police, where about 200 trainees were taking a course, witnesses said … Other installations struck included the Coast Guard, and buildings of the security service holding opponents of Hamas … Israel refused to allow journalists into Gaza. Gil Kari, spokesman for the Israeli military office in charge of liaison with Gaza, said the crossing to Gaza was closed today because of the Sabbath. ‘Today it was closed just like any Saturday, when we keep the crossing closed’.” This WPost article can be read in full

More details emerge on Gaza attacks from Israeli sources

Haaretz’s lead article this evening, written by Amos Harel and Barak Ravid, with news agency material incorporated, reports that “The first wave of air strikes was launched by 60 warplanes which hit a total of 50 targets in one fell swoop. The IAF deployed approximately 100 bombs, with an estimated 95 percent of the ordnance reaching its intended target … Immediately following the first wave, some 20 IAF aircraft struck 50 Palestinian rocket launchers in an effort to minimize Hamas’ retaliatory strikes … Senior military officials characterize the strikes as part of a ‘rolling operation’ and have thus begun a sporadic enlistment of the reserves, particularly in smaller units. Top IDF brass anticipate difficult days ahead, warning that the operation will extend beyond the next couple of days”. This full story can be viewed here.

This might be a possible error — or maybe Haaretz was wrong in the report above to say that only 100 bombs were used rather than 100 tons of bombs — but the Associated Press is adding that “Israeli military officials said more than 100 tons of bombs were dropped on Gaza by mid-afternoon. They spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines”. This full story is posted here.

In another Haaretz article published this evening, Amos Harel wrote that “This was a massive attack much along the lines of what the Americans termed “shock and awe” during their invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Simultaneous, heavy bombardment of a number of targets on which Israel spent months gathering intelligence. The military ‘target bank’ includes dozens of additional targets linked to Hamas, some of which will certainly come under attack in the coming days. Like the U.S. assault on Iraq and the Israeli response to the abduction of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser at the outset of the Second Lebanon War (the ‘night of the Fajr missiles’, a reference to the IAF destruction of Hezbollah’s arsenal of medium-range Fajr missiles), little to no weight was apparently devoted to the question of harming innocent civilians. From Israel’s standpoint, Hamas, which persistently fires rockets while using the civilian population as cover, had plenty of opportunities to save face and lower their demands. In stubbornly continuing to launch rockets during the course of recent weeks, it brought this assault on itself … A final decision on the precise timing of the operation was made on Saturday morning during consultations between the prime minister, the defense minister, the IDF chief of staff, and army generals. [n.b., strangely, Harel omits any mention of Tzipi Livni’s participation in these consultations, though as Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister she was reportedly involved. Is this just an oversight?] The cabinet approved the assault in its last meeting on Wednesday. Since that day, the government has waited for the opportunity to strike. Apparently, an intelligence tip indicating that members of the Hamas military wing were convening for a meeting expedited the decision-making process on giving the go-ahead to act. A ccording to initial reports from Gaza, a number of senior Hamas officials were hit, yet the scope of the harm done to the group’s leadership has yet to be precisely determined. The Israeli objective is clear: deal as serious a blow as possible to the Hamas chain of command in order to throw its operating capabilities off kilter”. This article can be viewed in full here .

The Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz, who is well-connected with the Israeli Defense Ministry, reported Saturday evening that “The IDF was beefing up forces around the Gaza Strip on Saturday evening in preparation of a possible ground operation following a massive air assault earlier in the day”. His report is posted here.

The three top Israeli officials reportedly involved in the decision to launch the attacks today all gave press conferences on Saturday.

YNet reported that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak convened a press conference on Saturday afternoon to formally announce the beginning of the IDF’s operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The offensive was launched at around 11:30 am, with the IDF carrying out two separate waves of attacks. Some 80 warplanes and helicopters took part in the assault, and over 100 bombs were dropped on dozens of targets … The officials said the operation would involve mostly the IAF, which is using precision weaponry to obliterate Hamas’ underground facilities, but added that other forces may be sent in if necessary. The IAF is currently preparing for dozens of daily sorties into Gaza. Unmanned aircrafts will also assist with gathering intelligence. Barak laid out the three objectives of the offensive – dealing Hamas a forceful blow, fundamentally changing the situation in Gaza, and bringing to the cessation of rocket attacks against Israeli citizens. … The defense minister detailed the launch of the operation: ‘In the afternoon IAF aircraft attacked Hamas and terror targets in the Gaza Strip. In this strike the IAF hit more than 190 Hamas operatives, including senior police officials, and destroyed infrastructure used by the terror groups’. Barak noted in his statement to the press that the IDF and defense establishment have been preparing for the operation several weeks now”. This report can be found here.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who reportedly called all staff back from Hanukkah holiday vacations to lanuch a public relations blitz to justify the attacks today, told the press at a quickly-convened meeting in Tel Aviv this evening that “This is the translation of our basic right to self defense”, and added that “Israel expects the support and understanding of the international community, as it confronts terror, and advances the interest of all those who wish the forces of peace and co-existence to determine the agenda of this region”.

Livni also said that “Israeli citizens have been under the threat of daily attack from Gaza for years. Only this week – hundreds of missiles and mortars shells were fired at Israeli civilian communities including the firing of 80 missiles on a single day. Until now we have shown restraint. But today there is no other option than a military operation. We need to protect our citizens from attack through a military response against the terror infrastructure in Gaza … Israel left Gaza in order to create an opportunity for peace. In return, the Hamas terror organization took control of Gaza and is using its citizens as cover while it deliberately targets Israeli communities and denies any chance for peace. We have tried everything to reach calm without using force. We agreed to a truce through Egypt that was violated by Hamas, which continued to target Israel, hold Gilad Shalit and build up its arms. Israel continues to act to prevent humanitarian crisis and to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians. Unfortunately, Hamas cynically abuses its own civilian population and their suffering for propaganda purposes. The responsibility for harm to civilians lies with Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization, supported by Iran, that does not represent the legitimate national interests of the Palestinian people but a radical Islamist agenda that seeks to deny peace for the peoples of this region”. Livni’s remarks can be found in full here.

Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called a press conference for 8 pm, but nothing has appeared on the wires as yet. There is now a photo on the Jerusalem Post website showing that he had both Livni and Barak beside him — presumably to keep a unified message … And Haaretz was the first to report from the Olmert press conference that: “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday said no country in the world would put up with the rocket and missile strikes Israel suffers from and that the time had come to react … ‘Israel has done all it could to preserve the ceasefire with Hamas, but our desire for quiet was met with terror’ … Olmert added that Israel ‘is not itching for a fight, but will not back down from one either’.”

UPDATE: Extensive excerpts from a transcript of Olmert’s remarks at the start of the press conference provided by his office — “For approximately seven years, hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in the south have been suffering from missiles being fired at them. Life in the south under missile barrages had become unbearable. Israel did everything in its power to fulfill the conditions of the calm in the south and enable normal life for its citizens in the communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip. The quiet that we offered was met with shelling. No country can countenance such a reality! The lives of our citizens are not forfeit. In recent days, it became clear that Hamas is bent on conflict. Whoever heard Hamas’s statements understood that they decided to increase attacks on the residents of Israel by firing rockets and mortars indiscriminately. In such a situation we had no alternative but to respond. We do not rejoice in battle but neither will we be deterred from it. Preparations for the operation were extensive and thorough. The Security Cabinet unanimously approved it on Wednesday, 24.12.08, and when conditions were ripe, we decided to set the action in motion. Yesterday (Friday), 26.12.08, I held a series of discussions with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, ISA Director Yuval Diskin and other security establishment personnel, and it was decided that the operation would begin. The operation in the Gaza Strip is designed, first and foremost, to bring about an improvement in the security reality for the residents of the south of the country. This is liable to take time and each one of us must be patient so that we can complete the mission. We want to restore the quiet and the tranquility and give the residents of the south the ability to live the normal lives that every country provides its citizens … On Thursday, 25.12.08, I made it clear to the residents of Gaza that we are not acting against them and that we have no intention of punishing them for the actions of Hamas. We will see to the needs of the population in Gaza and will do our utmost to prevent a humanitarian crisis that will impinge upon residents’ lives. Residents of Gaza, we are not your enemies and we are not fighting against you. This terrorist organization has brought disaster to two peoples. Israel is not fighting the Palestinian people but the Hamas terrorist organization that has taken it upon itself to act against the residents of Israel. Therefore, the targets that were attacked today were selected accordingly, with stress being placed on avoiding harm to innocents. Our precise intelligence, from the IDF Intelligence Branch and the Israel Security Agency, enabled maximum strikes at those involved in terrorism and minimized harm to innocents. This is how we will act in the future, as may be necessary. Israel is currently focusing on striking at the terrorist organizations that are operating to undermine stability in the entire region. I hope that no other element in the region will think that while Israel is fighting in the south, that it will it is inattentive to what is happening in other areas. We will not hesitate to respond to any aggression against us. During the day, we spoke with the leaders of the main countries of the world and made it very clear that the situation cannot continue and that we were compelled to take action in order to halt the aggression against our citizens. We also made it clear that Israel will, at the same time, make every effort to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip”.

The Prime Minister also expressed sympathy with the family of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is being held, presumably somewhere in Gaza (unless he was smuggled out in one of the tunnels), since late June 2006.

And, finally, the JPost mentions in one of its reports that the code name for the IDF attacks on Gaza that started today, Operation Cast Lead, is taken from a “Hanukkah poem by H.N. Bialik referring to a ‘dreidel cast from solid lead’.”

A popular Hanukkah song for children, found through an internet search, is about a child who makes a dreidel (a kind of small square-sided top that spins, used in games played during Hanukkah) out of clay: “I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay, And when it’s dry and ready, Then dreidel I shall play”. The one given to my son when he was in nursery school in NYC is made of plastic.

Further web seaching shows that dreidels have been made out of ivory, bone, wood, lead, glass, silver, and various other materials.

But, while there is already, on Saturday evening, a new Wikipedia entry about Operation Cast Lead here, there is nothing that explains to me the significance of the phrase in the Bialik poem about a “dreidel cast from solid lead”.

A lead dreidel - from Dreidel Fun

But, information on the Dreidel Fun website (from which the image above is borrowed for purposes of illlustration), explains that “Of any single object, the Dreidel most exemplifies the history of the endurance of the Jewish people from destruction. The Dreidel, like the Jewish people, falls only to rise anew in strength, standing upright against all forces again and again”. This reference can be found here

UPDATE: Reuters is now translating the code-name of this IDF operation as “Solid Lead”, and is reporting here that the IDF airstrikes on Gaza on Saturday have killed 227 people “in one of the bloodiest days for the Palestinians in 60 years of conflict with the Jewish state”. The same report said that “Saturday’s death toll was the highest for a single day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1948, when the Jewish state was established”.