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Israel's Pounding of Gaza Enters Third Day
By Reuters, Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem), IsraelNationalNews.com &
Israel pounded Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip from the air Monday morning and
prepared for a possible land invasion after killing at least 298 Palestinians in two days
Israel said the campaign that began on Saturday was a response to almost daily rocket
and mortar fire that intensified after Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group in charge of
the enclave that Israel quit in 2005, ended a six-month ceasefire a week ago.
Israel stepped up air strikes after dark on Sunday, destroying a laboratory building at
the Islamic University in Gaza, a significant cultural symbol, Hamas said. Israel has
accused Hamas of using the facilities to develop explosives.
During the first two days of the assault, terrorists fired about 150 rockets and
mortars at Israel, the army said, less than had been expected. Two rockets struck near the
port of Ashdod, 30 km (18 miles) from Gaza, causing no casualties.
The attacks enraged Arabs across the Middle East, where protesters burned Israeli and
U.S. flags to press for a stronger response from their leaders to Israel's attack on
Israeli tanks deployed on the edge of the Gaza Strip, poised to enter the
densely-populated enclave of 1.5 million Palestinians. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's
cabinet approved a call-up of 6,700 reservists, a government official said.
"The cost of calling up 6,700 reservists approved Sunday by the cabinet is over NIS 3
million a day," a senior official in the Finance Ministry said.
"The IDF will need to cover any operations of up to a week from its own sources. The
funding for an operation lasting longer than a week will be provided based on a cabinet
The Tax Authority has set up its own center in Sderot to deal with compensation issues,
and the Defense Ministry notifies it of all damage.In the past three years, residents of
the region near Gaza have been compensated to the tune of NIS 143 million for Kassam
damage: NIS 73 million for direct damage and NIS 70 million for indirect losses.
More than half the factories in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip operated Sunday,
despite instructions from the Home Front Command to close down some 80 plants within 4.5
kilometers from the Gaza border. About 15 percent of the workers in those factories did
not show up for work, though some were sent to work in other parts of the country instead.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told top commanders at a briefing that the Israeli
offensive was open-ended. Military spokesman Avi Benayahu said it could "take many
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Olmert, said the campaign would continue until the
population in southern Israel "will no longer live in terror and in fear of constant
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who hopes to become prime minister after a February 10
election, appeared to rule out a large-scale invasion to recapture the territory. "Our
goal is not to reoccupy Gaza Strip," she said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. Asked on
Fox News if Israel was out to topple Gaza's Hamas rulers, Livni replied: "Not now."
The U.N. Security Council called on all sides to cease fire. But an Israeli official
said Israel was feeling little international pressure to halt its operations.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum urged Palestinian groups to use "all available means,
including martyrdom operations" -- a reference to suicide bombings in Israel.
Israel expanded its air campaign to the southern Gaza Strip, bombing some 40 smuggling
tunnels running under the border with Egypt, a network that is a lifeline to the outside
Dozens of Gazans crossed into Egypt through holes opened in the border wall by
bulldozers and explosives. An Egyptian border guard and a Palestinian youth died in a
clash as Egyptian police tried to stop the influx, medics and Egyptian security said.
The IAF destroyed 40 tunnels that connected the Egyptian and Gazan sides of Rafiah
(Rafah) in a bombing sortie that lasted 270 seconds Sunday afternoon. Plumes of black
smoke mushroomed into the air one after the other as the IAF cast bombs at the tunnels
which line the Philadelphi Corridor between Egypt and Gaza.
The Corridor is supposed to be guarded by Egyptian forces but these have proven unable
or unwilling to prevent large-scale smuggling of weapons and other supplies into Gaza.
Egypt later warned Gaza residents to steer clear of the border area as Israel planned
to bomb more tunnels there, a Palestinian security source said. Israel says terrorists use
border tunnels to smuggle weapons into Gaza.
A high-ranking military source said that all of the tunnels have been destroyed.
However, according to Channel 1, the total number of tunnels across the Philadelphi
Corridor is estimated at 600. Observers said the IAF may have used U.S.-supplied
"bunker-buster" bombs to destroy some of the tunnels.
As part of the psychological warfare against Gaza, hundreds of residents of Gaza
received recorded telephone calls in which they were warned: "You are in danger. In order
to save your life and that of your family you must leave this place. This is a message
from the Israel Defense Force."
Palestinian health officials said the deaths raised to 298 the number of Palestinians
killed since Saturday.Hamas said 180 of its members were killed and the rest included
civilians, among them 16 women and some children. The international Red Cross said that
hospitals in the Gaza Strip were overwhelmed and unable to cope with the casualties.
One Israeli was killed on Saturday by a rocket fired from Gaza. Gazan rockets have
caused few Israeli casualties but have damaged property and sparked panic in many border
Benayahu, the army spokesman, said Hamas had not yet responded as strongly as expected,
possibly because it was "trying to recover from the blows," but that "it is too soon to
eulogize" it. Livni said Israel was trying to "target only terrorists and Hamas
headquarters." "But, unfortunately, in a war ... sometimes also civilians pay the price."
Violence also spread to the West Bank, where Israeli soldiers opened fire at
stone-throwing Palestinian protesters. Palestinian medical officials said two Palestinians
were killed. Palestinian forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah shot and wounded
three people in a protest in support of Hamas. Arab citizens of Israel also held
In Damascus, a senior official said Syria has suspended indirect peace talks with
Israel in response to the attacks. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanese Hizbullah
terrorists who fought a 2006 war with Israel, said he asked fighters to be on standby for
a possible Israeli attack.
Parents in Gaza kept their children home from school as the roar of Israeli aircraft
and thunder of explosions echoed. Schools in Israel's south, due to reopen on Tuesday
after the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, were ordered to stay shut.
The government announced that all educational institutes - from kindergartens to high
schools and including special needs schools - remain closed for the duration. At the same
time, some 300 female students who are performing national service as teachers will help
students with their studies inside bomb shelters and protected spaces.
The Education Ministry also instructed teachers in this area to start locating students
in distress in order to provide them with extra lessons. Among the communities in which
there will be no studies are Ashkelon, Netivot and Sderot, as well as several local
authorities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip.
Abbas, speaking in Cairo, accused Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip from Fatah in
2007, of triggering Israel's raids by not extending the ceasefire that Egypt brokered in
June. And President George W. Bush's administration, in its final weeks in office, put the
onus on Hamas to prevent more violence.
At the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged the public
to be patient. He said the operation could go on a long time and the home front could
endure an extended period of rocket attacks.
Iran's Red Crescent medical service said it would send aid to Gaza in the wake of
Israel's Gaza campaign. A ship left Iran's port of Bandar Abbas Saturday night and will
reach Gaza in 10 days, a statement by an organization official said. Iran said it expects
the ship to be able to dock, as several others which recently sailed Gaza were able to do
"The cargo contains over 2,000 tons of food, medicine and appliances and it will be
accompanied by 12 Iranian doctors and relief workers," the official said. Earlier this
month, Israel turned back an Iranian ship that was attempting to reach Gaza.
By the end of Monday, the third day of Operation Cast Lead, Israel will be close to
exhausting its target bank for aerial bombing. At that point, it will have to either
launch a ground operation or bring the campaign to a speedy conclusion. Thus far, however,
Israel has been sending conflicting messages about where the operation is headed.
On the one hand, despite its stated goal of a limited operation ending in a new and
improved cease-fire, Israel has so far not sent Washington its outline of an acceptable
formulation and asked it to begin mustering the requisite international support. And since
that process is likely to take several days, if the goal were to end the fighting quickly,
Israel's diplomatic initiative should have been ready to go at the same time as its
Hamas Threatens to Assassinate Livni, Barak
Hamas on Sunday threatened to respond to an ongoing Israel Defense Forces assault on
the Gaza Strip by assassinating senior Israeli officials. Senior Hamas official Fatah
Hamad specifically threatened Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud
He also threatened that Hamas would go after senior Palestinian Authority officials in
the West Bank, as well as "those in the Arab world who have conspired against us," - an
apparent reference to Egypt.
"We will reach that Zionist in her house, inside the Knesset compound. We will also get
to the traitors in the Muqata compound in Ramallah and to all those in the Arab world that
had a hand in the scheme against us. We will hunt Barak down and reach all of them," Hamad
"Today we are sending a message through the sea of blood that was spilled here and we
will not surrender and we will defeat the enemy. From here, from within the proud Strip,
we say to all our enemies: We will get to you, defeat you, and hunt you down one by
"We will reach the Zionist leaders in their homes, we will get to you, the
collaborators in the Muqata in Ramallah, and we will settle the score with you one by
Abbas `Begged' Israel to Hit Hamas
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his office Sunday slammed as
"barbaric" and "unnecessary" Israel's air strikes in Gaza, but according to top diplomatic
sources in Jerusalem, Abbas for months now has been petitioning Israel to launch a massive
military raid against his Hamas rivals in Gaza.
The sources, speaking to WND on condition of anonymity, said Abbas and his top
representatives have waged a quiet campaign for months asking the Israeli government to
target Hamas in Gaza just before his term in office is scheduled to expire on Jan. 9.
Hamas leaders have repeatedly warned they would not recognize Abbas after the 9th, and
that they will launch a major campaign to delegitimize the PA president and install their
own figures to lead the Palestinian government.
Abbas hopes a large-scale Israeli military campaign in Gaza would distract Hamas from
attempting to undermine his rule, the diplomatic sources told WND. "It's an open secret
among the diplomatic and military brass," one Israeli diplomatic source said. "The
campaign from Abbas for us to attack Hamas in Gaza has been intensive."
The source told WND, that the airstrikes were not aimed at helping Abbas, and that
Israel hoped to quickly conclude a ceasefire agreement with Hamas whereby Israeli military
operations would be suspended.
In a move that could have monumental ramifications, the Hamas terrorist organization is
quietly working to create its own Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, to compete
with the well-known group of the same namesake headed by Abbas, Hamas officials told
The effort is part of a larger expected Hamas campaign to delegitimize Abbas after
January 9. According to sources close to Abbas, of all the moves Hamas is planning, the PA
chief is most worried about the creation of a second PLO to compete with the group he
heads, which has long been dominated by his Fatah party.
The PLO has been recognized since the 1960s as the sole representative body of the
Palestinian people and is the signatory of major agreements with Israel, including the
1993 Oslo Accords.
Hamas officials told WND their group is in the process of building a second PLO, which
would be a grand coalition of major Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad,
the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command in Lebanon, and even
part of the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has until
now leaned toward Fatah.
According to sources in Hamas, some members of Fatah, including Faruq Al-Khadumi, chief
of the political bureau of the PLO, assisted in a recent meeting in which Hamas presented
the possibility of creating a new PLO.
The original PLO was founded by late-Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and other
Palestinian figures in 1964. It incorporates major Palestinian groups friendly to Fatah,
including the PFLP.
The creation of a new PLO might be the final nail in Abbas' political coffin after his
term in office expires. Top Hamas officials told WND in recent interviews that their
group, which won 2006 parliamentary elections, would no longer recognize Abbas after Jan.
"At midnight on the 10th, we are removing all of Abu Mazen's (Abbas') pictures from
official buildings and institutions throughout the Gaza Strip," Mahmoud al-Zahar, chief of
Hamas in Gaza, told WND.
"Do you believe in democracy?" al-Zahar asked, speaking by cell phone from Gaza. "If
you do then you will accept that Abbas will no longer be the president. Legally, the
leadership of the PA falls to us until new elections are held."
Abbas has said he will take advantage of a law whereby he can declare emergency rule
and remain PA president until early 2010.
A new poll published by the Western-oriented Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey
Research released earlier this month showed 64 percent of Palestinians believe Abbas' term
should not be prolonged. Only 24 percent believe he should remain in office.
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