By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East
GAZA CITY, Gaza –On February 29, the violence between the Israeli military and Gazan militants continued to escalate. According to the BBC, 32 Palestinians were killed in night raids conducted on February 29 and early morning raids on March 1. Yedioth News reports that “seven children, three women, two unarmed men and 20 gunmen… were killed in the IDF operation Saturday (March 1).”
The March 1 IDF operation targeted militants in the Jabaliya refugee camp. Two children, a sister and brother, were killed when the Jabaliya refugee camp was struck. Also, a father and his 19-year-old son, died in an air strike outside their home. Later, two teenaged sisters were killed. The Israeli military reports that five IDF soldiers were “lightly wounded” in the operation.
On February 29, one year old Malak al-Kafarna died of injuries sustained after a missile landed near her home in Beit Hanoun. Hamas claims that her death was caused by an an Israeli surface-to-surface missile, which injured four other civilians. However, Reuters reports that residents in the area state that “improvised rockets fired by militants at Israel have fallen short and landed inside Palestinian territory.” This seems to suggest that Kafarna’s death was caused by Palestinian rocket fire.
Despite the increase in Israeli operations in Gaza, militants continue to launch rockets at Israel. According to the Times, militants have fired nearly 130 rockets into Israel since February 26, when the violence between Israel and Gaza began to escalate.
Several of the rockets fired landed in Ashkelon, a large city located about 20km north of Gaza. While Ashkelon is occasionally a target of the longer-range rockets, never has so many rockets been fired at it in one day. One rocket struck a housing complex and another landed near a school and injured a student.
Following the rocket attacks on February 28, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, stated that “the more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” In this statement, Vilnai used the Hebrew word “shoah”, which is generally restricted to describe the Nazi genocide against European Jews during World War II.
Israeli officials acted quickly to clarify Vilnai’s use of the word “shoah” and its connection with the Holocaust. Eytan Guinsburg,Vilnai’s spokesperson, commented that “the minister used the Hebrew term ‘shoah’ which means ‘catastrophe’ and in this context does not refer to the ‘the Shoah’ – the Holocaust.” Also, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, said that “Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai used the Hebrew phrase that included the term ‘shoah’ in the sense of a disaster or a catastrophe, and not in the sense of a holocaust.”
However, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak supported the underlying theme of Vilnai’s statement and stated that Israel is close to launching a full scale offensive in Gaza. During a closed-door meeting on February 28, it is reported that Barak said that a “major ground operation is real and tangible. We are not afraid of it.” In addition, Israeli defense officials said that preparations for a large-scale ground offensive to storm Gaza are complete.
While there is support for a large scale operation into Gaza, many Israelis fear that such an operation will lead to Israel being dragged back into a “costly, long-term military occupation of Gaza. Also, in 2006, Israel received international criticism for an offensive operation into Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The five month incursion also failed to stop the rocket fire from Gaza.
Palestinians, both from Hamas and Fatah, condemn Israel’s recent actions. Thousands of Palestinians throughout Gaza demonstrated against the recent air strikes. In a rally by the Jabaliya refugee camp, a child in funeral shroud held a sign that read “They’ve killed my right to childhood.”
On February 29, former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, spoke after afternoon prayers at a mosque in Gaza City. He told worshippers that “Gaza today faces a real war, a crazy war led by the enemy against our people.”
In addition, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, stated that Israel’s military actions “meant only one thing: the Israeli government … aims to destroy the peace process.” Israeli Arab Knesset members called on Abbas to cease the peace talks with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert in order to create a political crisis.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit the Middle East next week to support the peace talks between Abbas and Olmert.
For more information, please see:
Associated Press – Israel Warns of Disaster in Gaza – 1 March 2008
BBC – New Israeli Raids on Gaza Kill 32 – 1 March 2008
The Guardian – Israeli Raids on Gaza Kill 32 – 1 March 2008
Ha’aretz – Meshal: Gaza is “Real Holocaust”; PA Threatens to Halt Peace Talks– 1 March 2008
Telegraph – Israeli Minister Vows Palestinian “Holocaust” – 1 March 2008
Times (London) – Israel Threatens to Unleash “Holocaust” in Gaza – 1 March 2008
Yedioth News – Abbas: IDF’s Gaza Operation Worse than a Holocaust – 1 March 2008 l
AFP – Thousands of Gazans Protest over Deadly Israeli Raids – 29 February 2008
Al Jazeera – Israel Warns of Gaza Invasion – 29 February 2008
Reuters – Gaza Child, Bombmaker die in Gaza Missile Strikes – 29 February 2008