As brutal rocket fire exchange is going on between Israeli armed forces and Palestinian resistance groups on the fourth day of “Operation Protective Edge”, the death toll from Israeli air strikes on Gaza has risen to more 100, according to Palestinian and international sources. At least 18 children have been killed since the first day, with a further 339 people injured, among them many civilians, after Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes since launching its most recent air campaign.
The Gaza health ministry has confirmed the deaths of 101 Palestinians as a result of Israel’s air campaign in Gaza. The attacks may violate international laws prohibiting the targeting of civilians, and as international pressure continued to build on Israel to end its four-day conflict with Hamas and Palestinian militant groups in the enclave, Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the Israeli military must abide by international law.
“We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes,” Pillay said. “Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.” Pillay said.
According to emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra and AFP agency, another 9 young Palestinians were killed and 15 more injured in an overnight Israeli air raid on a Gaza Strip beach during the World Cup semifinal game between the Netherlands and Argentina. The victims were sitting in a beach café watching the game in Khan Yunis when the Israeli F-16 fighter jet struck it.
Israel is preparing itself for a “ground offensive,” calling up 40,000 army reservists. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel has attacked more than 1,000 targets during a 4 day offensive against Gaza militants, and that “there are still more to go.” The enlargement of the campaign and inclusion of a ground operation are not being ruled out, and he added: “We are preparing all options.” He also said he saw no international pressure on Israel to halt its campaign.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says over 360 rockets have been fired at Israel since the beginning of its campaign. Palestinian rockets have targeted central and southern Israel, reaching as far as Jerusalem but causing no serious casualties. According to The Guardian, one rocket caused a serious misfortune for a few Israelis: up to eight people hurt when a fuel tanker was hit at a service station in Ashdod, 20 miles north of Gaza.
Despite the rockets’ targeting Israeli cities, there have been no Israeli deaths since the beginning of this campaign.
Until now, Israeli cities have been able to protect their homes from rocket attacks launched made by Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades. The armed wing of Hamas has announced in a statement by the group that they are looking to target Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, 19 km from Tel Aviv’s city center. They added they will launch the rockets from the Gaza Strip.
“In the light of Israel’s … attacks on the residents of Gaza Strip … The armed wing of Hamas has decided to respond to Israeli aggression and we warn you against carrying out flights to Ben Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base,” the statement said.
From his side, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters on Wednesday that “Gaza is on a knife edge.” and “I firmly condemn the multiple rocket attacks launched from Gaza on Israel. Such attacks are unacceptable and must stop. I also urged [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to exercise maximum restraint and to respect international obligations to protect civilians. I condemn the rising number of civilian lives lost in Gaza.”
Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s ambassador to the UN, said: “We call on the security council to act immediately to protect civilian lives, which are being lost and destroyed with each passing minute.”
The White House announced that Barack Obama has phoned the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to suggest a plan to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Obama condemned the rockets fired from Gaza and said that Israel has the right to self-defense. However, he also urged both sides not to escalate the crisis and to restore calm.
“The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” the White House publically declared.
The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem says a ground invasion would be a big political gamble as the military would have to deliver a clear victory before leaving, and that would be extremely difficult.
Worth mentioning is that the long-range projectile fired by Hamas in Gaza at Hadera was an M302 Syrian-produced rocket. The Israeli Navy intercepted an Iranian arms ship destined for Gaza last March. The ship’s cargo included 40 Syrian made M302 rockets that had a range of between 90 to 160 kilometers.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said that the Syrian-made M-302 rocket launched toward northern Israel proved that Iran was really supporting Gaza with the arms, and that some had slipped through despite Israel’s efforts. He said Israel suspects Hamas still possesses dozens of other such missiles with a range of more than 100 miles, putting 5 million Israelis within their reach.
“We know when we are successful in stopping them. Obviously, they have been successful in smuggling some of these in… We know there are these rockets in Gaza they have longer range, they have more firepower and they are more accurate.” Lerner said.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said that Hamas decided to escalate conflict with Israel in collaboration with other terrorist organizations. “We will now activate all of our force and take all the time that is needed in various stages in order to reach victory,” Gantz said.
Three homes in Gaza were used by Hamas as command and control centers for enabling rocket fire. The homes belonged to Hamas members Muhammad Sba’at, a senior member its rocket-launching formations in Beit Hanun on the northeast edge of the Strip, who was involved in several recent attacks; Amin Ibrahim al-Alba’an, a Hamas member; and Abu Jarad, a Hamas member from northern Gaza who has been engaged in terrorism against Israel.
Although Israel says its targets in Gaza have been militant fighters and facilities, this opinion is not universally accepted. Many international source,s as well as the Palestinian health ministry, emphasize that many women and children have been killed. It is clear that a further escalation of violence is not going to help anyone, but merely increase the death toll.