ON THE ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER — Israeli troops commandeered high-rise buildings in three eastern districts of Gaza City on Monday, expelling residents and shooting militants in the streets in their furious effort to break Hamas’s fighting ability.
On the 10th day of Israel’s war on the Islamist rulers of Gaza, more Palestinian civilians, including about 12 children, were killed and fuel and water supplies were severely strained for hundreds of thousands. The humanitarian relief systems functioned poorly because of the inability of suppliers and ambulances to move around despite Israeli efforts to facilitate truck deliveries across the border.
Israeli planes destroyed dozens of smuggler tunnels in the south, and Hamas fired some 25 rockets into Israel, one of which crashed into an empty kindergarten in the city of Ashdod, littering the floor with dolls and shrapnel.
Intense battles continued into the late night, with early reports of rising casualties on both sides.
As European diplomats poured into the region seeking a cease-fire, Israel and Hamas spoke defiantly of victory. Phones in Gaza homes rang repeatedly with recorded Israeli military messages saying, “We are getting rid of Hamas.” That goes beyond the stated goals of Israel’s top leaders, who have emphasized that the operation is intended to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel.Continue reading the main story
The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, said after a meeting with officials from the Czech Republic, Sweden and France that Israel would “change the equation” in the region. She added that in other conflicts, “countries send in forces in order to battle terrorism, but we are not asking the world to take part in the battle and send their forces in — we are only asking them to allow us to carry it out until we reach a point in which we decide our goals have been reached for this point.”
The Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, speaking from a hiding place in a recorded speech on Hamas television, said: “The Israeli enemy in its aggression has written its next chapter in the world, which will have no place for them. They shelled everyone in Gaza. They shelled children and hospitals and mosques, and in doing so, they gave us legitimacy to strike them in the same way.”
Palestinian medical officials estimated that the death toll during the war reached 550 on Monday. The United Nations estimated that about a quarter of those killed were civilians.
Three Israeli soldiers were killed and 24 were wounded when an Israeli tank mistakenly fired at them Monday night, The Associated Press reported. Hamas has killed five Israelis since the conflict began.
Israel said it had hit some civilian targets because they housed rockets, launchers or militants. It offered limited evidence of its claim.
Toward night on Monday, northern Gaza was the site of heavy fighting, including artillery, helicopter and tank fire, witnesses said. Plumes of smoke were visible in the night sky.
Inside Gaza City, windows are blown out, electricity is cut and drinking water scarce. While phones rang with the recorded threats against Hamas, leaflets dropped from airplanes littered the streets, saying: “Hamas is getting a taste of the power of the Israeli military after more than a week and we have other methods that are still harsher to deal with Hamas. They will prove very painful. For your safety, please evacuate your neighborhood.”
But many in Gaza said they had no place to go because many neighborhoods received the same message.
Israel has long argued that Hamas exploits civilians by operating among them. Hamas has responded that it is a people’s movement.
Maxwell Gaylard, United Nations humanitarian affairs coordinator, said at a Jerusalem news briefing that because of the attacks, people could not reach available food.
Children are hungry, cold, without electricity and running water, he said, “and above all, they’re terrified. That by any measure is a humanitarian crisis.”
Haitham Dababish, emergency chief at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, said that seven members of the Abu Aeisha family were killed earlier Monday after an Israeli naval shell hit their house in the Beach refugee camp in western Gaza City. The father, mother and five of their children died.
Eleven civilians belonging to an extended family, the Samounis, were also killed when a missile fired by an Israeli warplane struck the relatives’ house in which they had sought shelter in the Zeitoun neighborhood in eastern Gaza City, witnesses and hospital officials said.
In addition to Zeitoun, the neighborhoods where the Israeli military has been most active are Toufah and Shajaiah. All are poor areas where Hamas has strong political support. Residents said bodies of shot militants remained in the street.
The army would not say if the troops would go deeper into Gaza City, a move that presumably would lead to intense house-to-house fighting and heavy casualties on both sides.
Efforts at a diplomatic end were just at their initial stages as many governments called for a cease-fire. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France arrived in Israel on Monday after visiting Cairo and began talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials in the West Bank.
Israeli officials said the French had originally pushed for a 48-hour or 72-hour cease-fire by Israel, an attempt as they saw it to provide substantial humanitarian aid and to see if Hamas would stop its rocket fire for that period. But the Israelis believe they convinced their French colleagues that the idea had little strategic merit because Hamas was unlikely to stop firing, and if it did, it was unclear what was supposed to happen afterward.
Israeli officials said they were not ready to accept any cease-fire proposal that did not guarantee a permanent stop of rocket attacks as well as smuggling of weapons through tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt.
Since the operation began, Israeli officials in Washington said, the number of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza has fallen to about 20 a day from a peak of 80 on Christmas Day. “The situation has obliged them to contract and pull back the rockets,” said Jeremy Issacharoff, the Israeli deputy chief of mission in Washington. “The rate of attrition is important,” he said, noting that Hamas was now launching fewer rockets than Israeli forces had expected.
In Israel, politicians and intellectuals on the left, many of whom supported the initial attack on Gaza as a means to send a message to Hamas regarding rocket fire, began calling for an end to the operation and for intensive work on a truce, so as to avoid further movement of Israeli ground troops into Gaza and further civilian suffering there.
At the United Nations, Arab states and the Palestinian Authority were working on a draft resolution aimed at ending what the draft called Israeli aggression. Hamas itself is demanding an end to the economic siege on Gaza and the opening of the crossing points into Israel and Egypt to commercial traffic.
Israeli officials hope an eventual deal will be struck without engaging directly with Hamas, but Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Israel would not exclude a tacit understanding with Hamas.
“The endgame for us is threefold: that Hamas’s military machine would be substantially destroyed; two, Hamas understands that shooting rockets means paying a price they don’t want to pay; and three, there are mechanisms in place to prevent Hamas from rearming,” Mr. Regev said.
It is on the last point that much effort is now being expended, he said. It involves technical and diplomatic ideas about guarding Gaza’s southern border where smuggling tunnels existed until Israel began its military assault.Continue reading the main story