THE WORLDPOST
02/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Israel's Gaza Offensive: Updated Information

The IDF claims that rocket attacks have dropped 50% since their Gaza operation began over two weeks ago, reports Haaretz:

Sixteen days into Operation Cast Lead, the IDF says there has been a dramatic drop in the ability of Hamas to launch rockets against Israel.

Currently, the launches have dropped by 50% compared to the first day of the Gaza operation.

Researchers from Human Rights Watch condemned the Israeli military's use of white phosphorus shells, reports the AP:

Human Rights Watch said Sunday that Israel's military has fired artillery shells with the incendiary agent white phosphorus into Gaza and a doctor there said the chemical was suspected in the case of 10 burn victims who had skin peeling off their faces and bodies.

Researchers in Israel from the rights group witnessed hours of artillery bombardments that sent trails of burning smoke indicating white phosphorus over the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. But they could not confirm injuries on the ground because they have been barred from entering the territory.

Israel dropped leaflets in Gaza today warning residents of an escalation of the current offensive. Diplomats have raced to broker a cease-fire but have had no success.

With Israeli forces preparing to drive deeper into Gaza, Haaretz reports that one of Israel's goals with the stepped up onslaught is to pressure Egypt into helping deploy an international police force that can help stymie the flow of weapons between Egypt and Gaza:

In the coming days Israel will focus its military and diplomatic efforts on pressuring Egypt to work toward the Israeli and international demand to deploy an international force to combat smuggling from Egypt to Gaza.

Palestinian sources told Haaretz that Cairo demanded Saturday morning that the militant group respond to its cease-fire proposal within 48 hours. Egypt warned that if Hamas rejects its offer, Egypt would be unable to stop Israel from continuing its ground offensive.

While Israel's stated goal for the invasion of Gaza is to cripple Hamas' ability to launch rockets, speculation remains as to any larger strategic goals. In an analysis piece, the Daily Telegraph concludes that the Gaza invasion is the opening salvo in a bid to confront the threat from Iran:

While the Israeli military's immediate focus is to destroy Hamas's ability to terrorise Israel's southern border, the military campaign should be seen within the wider context of Israel's growing resolve to deal with the combined danger of Iran's continuing support for Islamic terrorist groups and its controversial uranium enrichment programme. The Israeli government sees both of these as direct threats to the country's existence.

So far as Israel is concerned, 2009 is the year that, given Iran's current rate of progress with uranium enrichment, will decide whether the mullahs succeed in their dream of becoming a nuclear power. Given the repeated statements President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has made about destroying Israel, the Israelis are rightly concerned that a nuclear-armed Iran would constitute a grave threat to its future survival.

The New York Times tonight reported that Bush rejected a request from Israel for help in attacking Iran's main nuclear facility. Specifically, Israel wanted special, bunker-busting bombs and permission to fly over Iraq.

A deeper push into Gaza would represent a "third stage" of the offensive (the first being the initial airstrikes, and the second the initial ground invasion), but IDF officials say they have plans, if necessary, for a "fourth stage," which would call for a full reoccupation of Gaza and the toppling of Hamas.

Militants continued to rain rockets down on Israel. At least 20 struck Western Negev today.

The New York Times has a very good article detailing just how brutal the street fighting is in Gaza, as Hamas has blanketed the territory with mines and booby-traps and hidden weapons in every conceivable place. The Israelis have their tricks as well:

Unwilling to take Israel's bait and come into the open, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms. The militants emerge from tunnels to shoot automatic weapons or antitank missiles, then disappear back inside, hoping to lure the Israeli soldiers with their fire...

...Israeli intelligence officers are telephoning Gazans and, in good Arabic, pretending to be sympathetic Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians or Libyans, Gazans say and Israel has confirmed. After expressing horror at the Israeli war and asking about the family, the callers ask about local conditions, whether the family supports Hamas and if there are fighters in the building or the neighborhood.

Protests against Israel continued across Europe. There was particular shock at a senior Vatican cardinal who compared the invasion of Gaza to a Nazi death camp.

From AP:

Israel dropped bombs and leaflets on Gaza on Saturday, pounding suspected rocket sites and tunnels used by Hamas militants and warning of a wider offensive despite frantic diplomacy to end the bloodshed.

Egypt hosted talks aimed at defusing the crisis, but war had the momentum on a bloody day on which more than 30 Palestinians, many of them noncombatants, were killed, according to Gaza medics. Hamas fighters launched 15 rockets at southern Israel, injuring three Israelis in the city of Ashkelon, the Israeli military said.

At hospitals, distraught relatives _ men in jeans and jackets and women in black Islamic robes _ sobbed and shrieked at the loss of family. Flames and smoke rose over Gaza City amid heavy fighting.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas predicted a "waterfall of blood" unless all parties adhere to a United Nations call for a cease-fire. But Israel has said the Security Council resolution passed Thursday was unworkable and Hamas, the Islamic group whose government controls Gaza but is not recognized internationally, was angry that it was not consulted.

Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal made a fiery speech on Arab news channel Al-Jazeera, describing the Israeli assault as a "holocaust." Still, Hamas teams were in Cairo to discuss a cease-fire proposed by Egypt.

At least 814 Palestinians, roughly half of them civilians, have died since war broke out on Dec. 27, according to Palestinian medical officials. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have been killed.

Weary Palestinians watched from apartment windows as thousands of leaflets fluttered from aircraft with a blunt warning: Israeli forces will step up operations against Islamic militants who have unleashed a daily barrage of rocket fire on southern Israeli towns.

"The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) is not working against the people of Gaza but against Hamas and the terrorists only," the leaflets said in Arabic. "Stay safe by following our orders."

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Israel Tells Gazans: Prepare For Escalation Of Military Offensive
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From AP: GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israel dropped bombs and leaflets on Gaza on Saturday, pounding suspected rocket sites and tunnels used by Hamas militants and warning of a wider offensive despite frantic diplomacy to end the bloodshed.

Egypt hosted talks aimed at defusing the crisis, but war had the momentum on a bloody day on which more than 30 Palestinians, many of them noncombatants, were killed, according to Gaza medics. Hamas fighters launched 15 rockets at southern Israel, injuring three Israelis in the city of Ashkelon, the Israeli military said.

At hospitals, distraught relatives _ men in jeans and jackets and women in black Islamic robes _ sobbed and shrieked at the loss of family. Flames and smoke rose over Gaza City amid heavy fighting.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas predicted a "waterfall of blood" unless all parties adhere to a United Nations call for a cease-fire. But Israel has said the Security Council resolution passed Thursday was unworkable and Hamas, the Islamic group whose government controls Gaza but is not recognized internationally, was angry that it was not consulted.

Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal made a fiery speech on Arab news channel Al-Jazeera, describing the Israeli assault as a "holocaust." Still, Hamas teams were in Cairo to discuss a cease-fire proposed by Egypt.

At least 814 Palestinians, roughly half of them civilians, have died since war broke out on Dec. 27, according to Palestinian medical officials. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have been killed.

Weary Palestinians watched from apartment windows as thousands of leaflets fluttered from aircraft with a blunt warning: Israeli forces will step up operations against Islamic militants who have unleashed a daily barrage of rocket fire on southern Israeli towns.

"The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) is not working against the people of Gaza but against Hamas and the terrorists only," the leaflets said in Arabic. "Stay safe by following our orders."
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The leaflets urged Gaza residents not to help Hamas and to stay away from its members. There was no immediate sign of an escalation, though earlier in the day, witnesses said Israeli troops moved to within one mile of Gaza City before pulling back slightly.

Israeli defense officials say they are prepared for a third stage of their offensive, in which ground troops would push further into Gaza, but are waiting for approval from the government. Early on Sunday, Israeli tanks were heard moving near the central Gaza border as Israeli artilley pounded the area, indicating the possibility of a larger operation.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli forces fired phosphorus shells at Khouza, a village near the border, setting a row of houses on fire. Hospital official Dr. Yusuf Abu Rish said a woman was killed and more than 100 injured, most suffering from gas inhalation and burns. Israeli military spokesman Capt. Guy Spigelman categorically dened the claims.

The Israeli military said it did not know of such an incident. Also, Hamas security officials said fierce battles were in progress early Sunday in eastern Gaza City and northern Gaza.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the army also has a fourth stage planned that calls for a full reoccupation of Gaza and toppling of Hamas.

The leaflets reflected Israeli efforts to cast Hamas as the source of the conflict that has brought additional misery to Gaza's 1.4 million people, who live in poverty in the densely inhabited shard of land along the Mediterranean. Israel hopes the suffering will erode support for Hamas, which won 2006 elections and engineered a violent takeover of Gaza in June 2007, overrunning the forces of its Palestinian rival Fatah.

For now, though, the fury of the Israeli onslaught has deepened bitterness toward Israel among trapped Gaza residents. Traffic through border crossings with Egypt and Israel is heavily restricted, and many Gazans survive on international handouts or goods smuggled through tunnels that are also used by Hamas to bring in weapons.

Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 after years of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, and has attributed many civilian casualties in the past two weeks to Hamas's alleged use of civilian areas as hiding places and staging grounds for attacks.

On Jan. 3, Israeli ground troops moved into Gaza, but they have largely avoided deployment in built-up areas where they would be more vulnerable to hit-and-run assaults. Israel holds elections in one month, and its leaders know staunch support for the military campaign could dwindle if the forces take heavy casualties.

The 15 rockets launched at southern Israel are part of a daily ritual that has severely disrupted life for hundreds of thousands of civilians. Three Israelis were injured in the city of Ashkelon.

The Israeli military said aircraft attacked more than 40 Hamas targets including 10 rocket-launching sites, weapons-storage facilities, smuggling tunnels, an anti-aircraft missile launcher and gunmen. At least 15 militants were killed, it said.

In the day's bloodiest incident, an Israeli tank shell killed nine people in a garden outside a home in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya, said Adham el-Hakim, administrator of Kamal Adwan hospital. The nine were from the same clan and included two children and two women.

The Israeli military, however, said its forces did not carry out attacks in that area on Saturday.

Struggling to keep peace efforts alive, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Abbas urged Israel and Hamas to agree to a truce.

After meeting Mubarak, Abbas warned there was no time to waste in ending the bloodshed in Gaza.

"If any party does not accept it (the truce), regrettably it will be the one bearing the responsibility. And if Israel doesn't want to accept, it will take the responsibility of perpetuating a waterfall of blood," Abbas said.

Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party, which dominates the West Bank, are fierce political rivals.

Hamas officials from both Gaza and Syria are also in Cairo for separate talks with Egyptian officials on a truce. Israeli officials were in Cairo earlier this week.

U.S. President George W. Bush spoke by telephone to President Abdullah Gul of Turkey, which is involved in Mideast peace efforts, about the situation in Gaza, said a spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington.

"President Bush emphasized the importance of bringing an end to rocket fire against Israel and preventing arms smuggling into Gaza as the basis for a durable cease-fire," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on a peace mission to the region, visited the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt and saw a fireball from a large detonation in Gaza. He felt the pressure from the blast, which caused windows to rattle.

"We are standing here while the fighting is still on back there," said Steinmeier, who later traveled to Israel. "It is right and correct to be concerned about the injured and the dead, but the European foreign ministers must do more so that words can be turned into deeds."

The U.N. estimates two-thirds of Gaza's 1.4 million people now lack electricity, and half don't have running water.

The Israeli military announced a three-hour halt to operations in Gaza on Saturday to let medics use the lull to rescue casualties and aid groups to rush through food distribution. But for the second straight day, fighting continued even during the lull.

Israel has called for the three-hour breaks in fighting for the past four days. But aid groups say it isn't enough time to do their work.

Also on Saturday, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in European cities and Lebanon, shouting protests against the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

___

Barzak reported from Gaza City and Torchia from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Frieder Reimold contributed to this report from Rafah at the Gaza-Egyptian border.