Israel continues pounding Gaza on Day 7 of blitz


By SAKHER ABU EL OUN

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Israel continued to bomb Gaza early on Friday after killing a top Hamas commander in the biggest blow yet to the Islamist’s leadership, as the death toll in the seven-day blitz reached at least 420.

With tanks and troops massed for a threatened ground offensive and no ceasefire in sight, the army was allowing foreigners living in Gaza to leave on Friday.

Israeli planes and naval guns staged more than 50 attacks on Thursday and Hamas sent more rockets deep into Israel.

An army spokeswoman said bombing overnight was aimed at 15 targets, including rocket launchers and weapons storage facilities.

Witnesses in Gaza told AFP several people had been wounded, but no deaths were reported.

On Thursday, Israeli jets fired missiles on the home of Nizar Rayan in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing him, his four wives, 10 of his children and two neighbors, witnesses and medical sources said.

Considered to be among the most hawkish of Hamas leaders, Rayan was the most senior figure to be killed by Israel since Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 2004.

Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said Israel would regret its attacks.

While they ‘’are intended to break our will, they won’t,’’ he said on television. ‘’This cowardly enemy must realize that he will regret these crimes against our people.’’

In addition to the 420 dead, ‘’Operation Cast Lead’’ has also left 2,180 people wounded, according to Palestinian emergency services.

Rocket fire from Gaza has killed four people and wounded dozens in Israel.

Thursday’s Israeli strikes also hit the parliament and justice ministry, rocket launching sites, tunnels for smuggling weapons or supplies into the territory and weapons storage facilities, a military spokeswoman said.

And the army said it bombed the mosque in Jabaliya where Rayan was a preacher, calling it a ‘’terror-hub’’ and a storage site for rockets and other weapons.

Hundreds of houses have been destroyed and the United Nations says about 25 percent of the dead are civilians. Food, fuel and medical supplies are all running short, aid agencies say.

Israel began the offensive on Saturday in response to rocket fire by Hamas and its allies but has failed to halt those attacks, none of which caused any casualties on Thursday.

One projectile slammed into an apartment block in Ashdod more than 30 kilometers from Gaza, the army said.

And two rockets hit near the desert city of Beersheva, 40 kilometers from the border — the deepest yet they have reached into Israel.

Speaking in Beersheva, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel is ‘’not interested in conducting a long war’’ but insisted ‘’we will deal with Hamas and terror with an iron fist.’’

Hamas has fired more than 360 rockets since Saturday, Israel says.

On the diplomatic front, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks in Paris on Thursday with President Nicolas Sarkozy and other French leaders.

The previous day, Israel had rejected a French proposal for a 48-hour ceasefire to help humanitarian efforts. Livni repeated that rejection, saying Israel would decide in due course when to halt its offensive.

‘’The question of whether it’s enough or not will be the result of our assessment on a daily basis,’’ she said.

Peace moves were also stalled at the UN Security Council even though UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon said the conflict had become ‘’a dramatic crisis.’’

The civilian population in Gaza and stability throughout the Middle East ‘’are trapped between the irresponsibility displayed in the indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas militants and the disproportionality of the continuing Israeli military operation,’’ Ban said.

Libya presented the Security Council with a draft resolution drawn up by the Arab League calling for an immediate ceasefire, but the United States and Britain said it appeared biased because it did not mention the Hamas attacks.

Meanwhile, an Israeli defense ministry spokeswoman said ‘’about 400 people, dual nationals’’ living in Gaza would be leaving on Friday after their countries asked that they be allowed to do so.

The largest number were from Russia, with others coming from the United States, Norway, Turkey, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, Peter Lerner said, adding that they would leave through the Erez crossing.

Meanwhile, Israeli police were on alert in east Jerusalem. Hamas called for a ‘’day of wrath’’ on Friday there and in the West Bank, with ‘’massive marches’’ after weekly Muslim prayers, starting off from the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and from ‘’all the mosques in the West Bank.’’

The army also locked down the West Bank from midnight (2200 GMT Thursday) for 48 hours, with movement in and out of the territory prohibited except for emergencies and special cases.

RP Muslims call for peace, accuse Israel of genocide

By EDD K. USMAN

As the Israeli onlaught in Gaza continued to slaughter Palestinians, Muslims and Christians in the Philippines yesterday accused the Israeli government of genocide and said the world must come to its senses to stop the conflict.

Leaders of the Assalam Bangsamoro People’s Association (ABPA), the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) and the Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) said Israel is committing genocide against a defenseless Palestinian people as the United States, the United Nations and the West just look on.

The three organizations spearheaded a protest rally in front of the Blue Mosque in Maharlika Village, Taguig City just after yesterday’s Juma’ah (Friday) congregational prayers.

Children held pictures of slain Palestinianns and placards that read: “Zionist Israel: How many Palestinian women and children are you going to kill today?” “Israel Butcher of Children,” and “Israel Terrorist,” among others.

ABPA’s Jolly Lais quoted the UN as saying that many of the casualties of the Israeli bombing were children while Rei Melencio of the PLM said Israel’s “final solution” of genocide against the Palestinian people must stop.

BMP Secretary General Teody Navea on the other hand urged support for Gaza inhabitants as he denounced the killing of innocent Palestinian men, women and children.

Lais also noted that last February, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai vowed to inflict a “bigger Palestinian holocaust” if the rocket attacks against southern Israel do not stop.

In another development, Peace Process Undersecretary Nabil Tan called for a truce and dialogue in Palestine and sought UN intervention as the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli military has reached more than 400, including more than 60 women and children.

Tan, ABPA national president Datu Pendatun Disimban, former House deputy speaker Gerry Salapuddin, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) spokesman Eid Kabalu issued separate statements through text messages slamming the ongoing Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

“The attack against innocent civilians can never serve the ends of justice. The killings should stop, and peaceful dialogue should begin. The UN should intervene,” said Tan, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Before Vilnai’s statement, Israel has reserved the term holocaust to Jews whom Adolf Hitler’s Nazis exterminated by the millions during World War II.

Disimban and Kabalu, aware of Vilnai’s holocaust threat, said “Allah forbid the extermination of the Palestinians”, while Kabalu expressed the MILF’s oneness with the Palestinians.

“We express our solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people with prayer for them to overcome this slaughter, confident that in the end they will be victorious, insha Allah,” said the MILF’s chief of civil-military affairs.

Disimban said ABPA “strongly condemns the Israeli barbaric attacks on Gaza that killed at least 370 Palestinians. We also urge the Muslim world, particularly the Arab world to unite and punish the Israeli government.”

ABPA called on the UN to sanction Israel for not obeying its appeal for ceasefire and for killing innocent civilians.

“Israel is the real terrorist, killing innocent civilians, children, and women. The best solution to the problem in Palestine is to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands,” said Disimban, in reference to the Israeli ambassador to the Philippines’ appeal for support for Israel and calling Hamas terrorists.

Salapuddin noted what he describes as Israel’s “disproportionate use of strong and excessive force against the Palestinian people, causing several hundred dead and close to 2,000 wounded, many of whom were children and women.”

The former Basilan congressman said beside being wrong, “this can be considered a crime against humanity, a genocide. That is not to mention the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the Israelis and the unfettered building of Jewish settlements to settle non-Arab Jews from Europe on Palestinian lands.”

Salapuddin said Israel’s blockade of the entry of food, medicines, fuel and other basic needs of the Palestinians is not only cruel and heartless, but an undeserved act of a supposed civilized state claiming to hail from prophets and messengers of God.

“I think it will court more anger and rage against Israel in the Muslim world, generally. It can also become a rallying cause for al-Qaeda against Israel and the U.S.,” said Salapuddin.”

On the other hand, the policy of hatred of the Hamas leadership against Israel tends to undermine the leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate for a comprehensive peace settlement with Israel. More than any time, the unity of all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah behind President Abbas, who is recognized in the Muslim world and the West, is much needed,” he said.

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