Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israeli strikes leave 375 dead in Gaza

Protests around the world have turned violent

Three days of violence has left more than 375 dead as Israeli attempts to destroy Hamas’s capability of firing rockets into its territory. But while Israel says it is only trying to defend itself from rocket attacks, its disproportionate response has come in for much criticism and resulted in widespread protests around the world. The United States have defended Israel’s right to protect itself and called on Hamas to stop firing rockets. But even this ally has asked Israel to act with restraint and avoid hitting civilians.

However, in a region as densely populated as Gaza even surgical strikes on military targets cannot avoid civilian casualties. There are no exact numbers, but Palestinian sources say many of the some 375 so far killed are civilians. There are also many injured and only now after three days of violence are some of the hundreds of wounded being transported into Egypt to receive emergency treatment. Meanwhile the Red Crescent has mobilized an operation to ship medical supplies into Gaza. At least 100 aid trucks are preparing to make their way into Gaza from Egypt. But providing aid is difficult and one aid ship has already run into trouble after colliding with an Israeli warship. CNN’s Karl Penhaul said two Israeli boats shadowed the aid boat Dignity before ramming it in international waters. But Yigal Palmor of the Israeli Ministry said the fact that journalists were on board the vessel indicated it was part of a “publicity stunt”. He insisted that the boat was not rammed despite damage that was evident on the boat.

While Israel’s action might be understood on one level, their bombardment may only serve to perpetuate a continuing cycle of hatred that exists across the region. Already there have been demonstrations, not only in Gaza and the West Bank but also across Lebanon, Iran and in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. There were also violent clashes with police on Sunday outside the Israeli embassy in London. Protests have also been seen in New York. In Greece which has recently seen anti-government protests, demonstrators took to streets to vent their anger towards Israel.

Ron Prosor, Israeli Ambassador to the UK, speaking on CNN said that Hamas was whipping up propaganda against Israel. He said Israel had been restrained for many years allowing Hamas to arm itself with the help of Iran and Hezbollah. He said the military action would allow Israel the ability to “degrade Hamas’s capability” and put the issue of peace back on the negotiating table. As regards the numbers of civilians killed he blamed Hamas for placing military bases, laboratories and other installations close to civilian neighbourhoods. Israel, like the US, sees Hamas as a terrorist organisation despite its having been elected in a democratic election. “Hitler too was democratically elected”, Prosor said, dismissing their legitimacy to hold power.

Israel’s PM has said the bombardment was only the first stage of an ongoing operation. Already tanks have manoeuvred into position at the border between Gaza and Israel prompting speculation that a ground offensive may follow soon.

Hamas meanwhile continues to launch attacks against its neighbour though it is unable to inflict much damage. Since Saturday despite many such rockets being launched few have caused anything more than panic on the streets of Israel. There has been some property damage but so far only four people have died including one soldier according to Israel [BBC / CNN / Sky News].

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