Saturday, December 27, 2008

Israeli airstrikes leave 150 dead in Gaza

Despite calls from religious leaders over Christmas to end the conflict in the Middle East, the region has once again descended into violence. Israel launched a series of air strikes into Gaza on Saturday morning killing at least 145 and leaving 200 injured.
At a press conference Hamas leaders condemned the strikes and said they “held Israel responsible” for the “massacre”. Israel has said the attacks “aimed at Hamas militants” was in response to rocket attacks launched against Israel following the breakdown of a ceasefire earlier this month. The ceasefire breakdown is partly blamed on Israel's failure to open borders and allowing the flow of food, medicine and other supplies.

Major Avital Leibovitch told CNN the aerial bombardment was "in response to continued rocket attacks from Gaza" and that the operation was “just the beginning”. However, Hamas has vowed revenge for the air strikes, saying they were stronger than ever before.

Several countries have criticised the Israeli action saying it would further inflame the region. Egypt’s presidency condemned the air strikes and called for restraint. The country’s borders were also opened up to allow the wounded to be transported to at least two of Egypt’s hospitals. The Arab League called on the UN to take action, while French president Sarkozy's office called on both Hamas & Israel to halt hostilities. But while Hamas had its supporters, others struck out at the group. President Bush said Hamas should stop its terrorist activity. While stopping short of condemning Israel it did call for restraint saying the action did little to help the peace process. Speaking from Gaza, Eyhab el-Ghosain, the Hamas Interior Ministry, told the BBC that Hamas was not a terrorist organisation and was merely defending itself from Israeli aggression. The BBC cut into the Live into the interview to bring viewers a supposed Live address by an Israeli’s Foreign Minister. Tzipi Livni said Israel “had no choice” other than to respond to the continued rocket attacks launched by Hamas militants in recent days. As it turned out the statement was a “recently recorded clip”.

Hamas say that all their police compounds have been destroyed by the attacks and that civilians were amongst the dead. In Israel there is at least one fatality after a Hamas rocket destroyed a house. Two were also injured following the rocket attack on the small town of Askelon. The tit for tat aggression and the pictures that are subsequently broadcast will only perpetuate the violence.

Pictures which were relayed via television news showed scenes of chaos and destruction. Al Jazeera showed graphic scenes of a police compound were dozens of bodies lay dead and injured. CNN, the BBC and other news broadcasters were less graphic in their coverage, but in the Palestinian territories TV news was far less muted. According to BBC News, local broadcaster have showed pictures of bodies laid out in front of hospitals including many children caught up in the explosions. Sky News were broadcasting Live from the area as an explosion hit the centre of Gaza sending up a huge mushroom cloud of smoke. It was not known who or what was at the receiving end of the missile attack which was only one of at least 20 such blasts reported across the Gaza strip. In response Hamas has launched dozens of rockets into the Israeli territory though the damage inflicted is superficial. As the strikes subsided the protests started. Some called for Fatah to join with Hamas in its battle against a common aggressor. There has not been a major shift in support for Hamas, though the scenes of dead bodies and destruction has angered many in the Palestinian territories as well as Gaza. Meanwhile Hamas is continuing to call on its fighters to strike back at Israel. This conflict is unlikely to end anytime soon [CNN / BBC / Sky News / al-Jazeera].

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