The Times West Virginian

World News

July 10, 2014

Gaza dead tops 85; Israel presses offensive

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — The Al Haj family never heard it coming: An Israeli missile smashed into their home in the middle of the night, destroying the structure and killing eight relatives in a matter of seconds. A survivor said all the dead were civilians.

As Israel intensified its bombardment Thursday of the Gaza Strip in an offensive against the Hamas militant group, with more than 900 targets attacked so far, it said it was doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties in the crowded urban landscape. The risk of more civilian deaths will remain high, especially if Israel moves in with ground forces.

More than 85 people have been killed, including dozens of civilians, and over 300 wounded since the offensive began Tuesday, Palestinian medical officials said.

Undeterred, Hamas militants have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, including salvos Thursday at the country’s two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, that were intercepted by the rocket-defense system known as the Iron Dome.

President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and lent his support to Israel’s efforts to defend itself from the rocket fire, but he also urged both Israel and the Palestinians to protect civilians and restore calm. The White House said the U.S. was willing to “facilitate a cessation of hostilities,” potentially along the lines of a 2012 cease-fire that Egypt and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped broker.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern about the threats to civilians in Israel and Gaza, and urged an immediate cease-fire.

“It is unacceptable for citizens on both sides to permanently live in fear of the next aerial attack,” Ban said. “My paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians, no matter where they are.”

He condemned the “indiscriminate” rocket fire at Israel. “But I am also concerned at the many Palestinian deaths and injuries as a result of Israeli operations,” he said. “Once again, Palestinian civilians are caught between Hamas’ irresponsibility and Israel’s tough response.”

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, pulled out a cellphone during the meeting and played a recording of an air-raid siren as he described the difficult circumstances of people living within rocket range. His Palestinian counterpart, Riyad Mansour, decried the Israeli “barrage of death, destruction and terror.”

Ban has been a key player in diplomatic efforts to halt the hostilities. Egypt, historically a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, has said it is in touch with both sides.

Neither side has shown much interest in halting the fighting. With rockets continuing to fly, Israel has been massing forces along the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

“So far the campaign is going as planned,” Netanyahu said in a statement broadcast on national television. “But we are expecting more stages later. So far we have severely hit Hamas and other terrorists and we will deepen the strike against them as long as the campaign continues.”

He said Israel was making “every effort” to avoid harming civilians and accused Hamas of endangering the Palestinian public by “hiding behind Palestinian civilians.”

Residents in the crowded Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza were at a loss to explain why the Al Haj family home was targeted in the attack just before 2 a.m. Thursday. The blast killed Mahmoud Al Haj, his wife, Basmah, and six of their children.

Yasser Al Haj, who was not at home in the refugee camp, was the only relative to survive.

“I want to see my family,” he wailed. “Where is the house? Where is my family?”

Neighbor Iyad Hamad decried the deaths of “children, women and old people.”

“There can’t be more oppression than this in the world,” he said. “Can’t they see what is happening to the people here?”

It was not clear who was the target of the airstrike, or whether the family had been warned.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said the incident was under investigation.

Israel has been taking precautions to protect civilians. He said when Israel identifies a home used by Hamas as a “command and control center,” it calls the inhabitants and orders them to leave. It then fires a “non-explosive munition” at the roof as a warning and looks for people to leave. Only then does it destroy the structure.

But he said if a militant is actively using a house to carry out attacks, he becomes a legitimate target. “If you use civilian premises to perpetrate attacks, you are putting yourself and the people around you in a state of danger,” Lerner said.

Israel says Hamas intentionally uses civilian areas, including homes, mosques and schools, for cover during fighting. “Hamas ... intentionally embeds itself in civilian populations,” Lerner said.

A number of the nearly 30 women and children to die in the offensive are believed to have been killed along with relatives who were targeted by Israel.

Israel uses electronic surveillance, a network of informants and other techniques to keep tabs on wanted militants in Gaza. It has a long history of killing senior militants in airstrikes. But mistakes can happen.

Robbie Sabel, a former legal adviser for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said international laws of war prohibit deliberate targeting of civilians, but take into account that civilians may be hit in attacks on military targets as long as the response is “proportionate.” Beyond the legal issues, however, is the matter of public perception.

“The moment you see a picture in The New York Times of an injured child, it’s horrific. And there’s no way you can come up with a legal explanation that will help us,” he said.

The number of civilian casualties is sure to rise if Israel decides to launch a ground invasion. During a ground incursion in early 2009, hundreds of civilians were killed. Israel accused Hamas of putting people in harm’s way, but the heavy death toll drew war crimes accusations against Israel in a U.N. report.

The report also accused Hamas of committing war crimes by firing indiscriminately at Israeli population centers. The current wave of rocket fire has placed an estimated 5 million Israelis in range, disrupting life across the country.

The Iron Dome defense system has intercepted more than 100 of the projectiles destined for major cities. The system is designed to shoot down rockets headed toward populated areas, while allowing others to fall where they can do no harm.

In southern Israel, the area hit hardest by the rockets, people have been ordered to stay within close range of shelter. Summer camps have been canceled, motorists have been forced to jump out of their cars, and high school students took their final exams in bomb shelters. Many people are using a smartphone application that alerts them to incoming rockets when they can’t hear air-raid sirens.

Lian Assayag had planned a big wedding in the southern city of Ashkelon. But her special day was dashed due to the rocket fire. She decided instead to get married Thursday night inside a bomb shelter at a synagogue in nearby Ashdod.

“I have mixed feelings. Everything got messed up,” she told Channel 10 TV. “It’ll be OK.”

———

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Yousur Alhou and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
World News
  • Hamas resumes rocket fire on Israel

    Hamas resumed rocket fire Saturday on Israel after rejecting Israel’s offer to extend a humanitarian cease-fire, the latest setback in international efforts to negotiate an end to the Gaza war.
    Despite the Hamas rejection, Israel’s Cabinet decided to extend a truce for 24 hours, until midnight (2100 GMT) Sunday.

    July 27, 2014

  • Gaza sides agree to lull; truce stalled

    Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed Friday to broker a weeklong truce as a first step toward a broader deal and Israel’s defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation “significantly.”

    July 26, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia firing across border into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014

  • U.N. school in Gaza in cross-fire; 15 killed

    A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

    July 25, 2014

  • Jet with 116 on board crashes in Mali

    An Air Algerie jetliner carrying 116 people crashed Thursday in a rainstorm over restive Mali, and its wreckage was found near the border of neighboring Burkina Faso — the third major international aviation disaster in a week.

    July 25, 2014

  • Two more planes with Ukraine bodies arrive in Netherlands

    Two more military aircraft carrying remains of victims from the Malaysian plane disaster arrived in the Netherlands on Thursday, while Australian and Dutch diplomats joined to promote a plan for a U.N. team to secure the crash site which has been controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

    July 25, 2014

  • Bodies of Malaysian jet victims solemnly returned to Dutch soil

    Victims of the Malaysian jetliner shot down over Ukraine returned at last Wednesday to Dutch soil in 40 wooden coffins, solemnly and gently carried to 40 identical hearses, flags at half-staff flapping in the wind.

    July 24, 2014

  • 48 dead in Taiwan plane crash

    Family members of victims of a plane crash were flying to the small Taiwanese island on Thursday where the plane had unsuccessfully attempted to land in stormy weather, killing 48. There were 10 survivors, and authorities were searching for one person who might have been in a wrecked house on the ground.

    July 24, 2014

  • Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site

    International monitors moved gingerly Saturday through fields reeking of the decomposing corpses that fell from a Malaysian airliner shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, trying to secure the sprawling site in hopes that a credible investigation can be conducted.
    But before inspectors ever reach the scene, doubts arose about whether evidence was being compromised.

    July 20, 2014

  • Without radar, missile may not have identified jet

    If Ukrainian rebels shot down the Malaysian jetliner, killing 298 people, it may have been because they didn’t have the right systems in place to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft, experts said Saturday.
    American officials said Friday that they believe the Boeing 777 was brought down by an SA-11 missile fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

    July 20, 2014

Featured Ads
NDN Editor's Picks
House Ads