Israel launches military offensive in Gaza

July 8, 2014 in News by The Manimal

Source: Al Jazeera

Israel launched an offensive against Hamas in Gaza on Tuesday, bombing some 50 targets, including homes.

Israeli raids were reported throughout the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, with jets attacking empty training camps belonging to Palestinian fighting groups.

Among the 50 sites the Israeli army said it targeted early Tuesday were four houses belonging to militants, three militant compounds, 18 concealed rocket launchers and other militant infrastructure sites. Most were targeted in airstrikes, and three were attacked from the sea.

Palestinian officials said more than 30 of the sites were bombed in little more than an hour before dawn, including two homes in southern Gaza, one of which was identified by a neighbor as belonging to a Hamas member.

A Twitter statement from the Israeli army said the offensive, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” is intended to “stop the terror Israel’s citizens face on a daily basis.”

Gaza health official Ashraf Al-Kedra said at least nine Palestinian civilians were brought to a Gaza hospital with light to moderate injuries from the airstrikes, including several who suffered from shock. He said some of the injured Palestinians were treated and released.

There were no other reported casualties possibly because the buildings were believed to have been evacuated beforehand.

Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said “We don’t expect it to be a short mission on our behalf.”

He added that the army will gradually increase its attacks on Hamas in Gaza, and is recruiting additional reservists for a potential ground invasion of Gaza.

Hamas has amassed about 10,000 rockets, including longer-range rockets that can reach “up to Tel Aviv and beyond,” Lerner said, adding that the army was preparing for the possibility that Hamas would launch rockets toward Israel’s heartland and its commercial and cultural hub.

Reflecting growing U.S. concern over the violence rapidly spiraling out of control, President Barack Obama called for Israelis and Palestinians alike to show restraint and put an end to acts of retribution, in some of his first public comments on the matter since the murder of three Israeli teenagers who went missing on June 12 touched off a new round of deepening mistrust and violence.

In an op-ed published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Obama called it a “dangerous moment” for the region where a U.S. peace effort recently collapsed. Writing in emotional terms, he said he couldn’t imagine the pain suffered by the parents of the three Israeli teens, but was also heartbroken by the senseless murder of a Palestinian teenager who many suspect was killed in revenge.

“All parties must protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution,” Obama said.

Obama’s comments — published in Hebrew, Arabic and English  — appeared less than two days after Israeli airstrikes killed at least nine Palestinian fighters and injured four — including a 4-year-old child — in the deadliest exchange of fire since the latest round of attacks began weeks ago. The assualt was followed by a return of missile fire that saw around 100 rockets fired into Israeli territory, according to Hamas.

Hamas’ armed wing claimed responsibility for scores of missiles fired Monday at the Israeli cities of Ashdod, Ofakim, Ashkelon and Netivot. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system intercepted about a dozen rockets. One person was lightly wounded by shrapnel in Ashdod, Israeli news website Haaretz reported.

Code Red sirens rang out in Israeli cities from Beersheva in the south to cities as far north as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Three rockets reportedly landed near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank near the illegal settlement of Gush Etzion, Palestinian news website Maan News reported. Israeli officials told Israelis living near Gaza to stay within 15 seconds of their bomb shelters.

A video released Monday by Hamas’ Al Qassam military wing addressed residents of Beersheva, saying, “Your leaders have murdered our children and bombed our houses. They have sentenced you to death. Run before it’s too late.”

The barrage came shortly after Israel’s security cabinet decided on Monday to escalate attacks on Hamas in Gaza, Haaretz reported.

Israel’s military said it had called up 1,500 reservists for the first time since its last major operation in Gaza in 2012. Army spokesman Peter Lerner said the move does not mean that they have decided to escalate, only that “we are taking it up to a level of military preparedness.”

The latest strikes come after the abduction and death of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir on July 2, a suspected act of revenge for the killing of three Israeli youths whose disappearances and deaths have heightened tension in the region.

Seven fighters from Hamas’ Al Qassam brigades were killed Sunday night when an airstrike hit a tunnel at Rafah in the south of Gaza. Two of the men from the Al Hussinin brigade, a military group belonging to Fatah, were targeted by drone strikes east of the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza on Sunday, witnesses said.

Four civilians – including a 4-year-old child – were wounded when Israeli jets fired a rocket at a field near their house in the northern Gaza Strip in Beit Hanon, Gaza medics said. Early Monday Hamas vowed to avenge the deaths, saying “the enemy will pay a tremendous price,” referring to Israel. The group said its men were killed by an Israeli airstrike on a tunnel used by the its fighters.

Israel said it carried out airstrikes on at least “14 terror sites,” including “concealed rocket launchers” in Gaza overnight in retaliation to attacks from Gaza. The Israeli military has launched scores of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip in the past weeks that have killed two and injured several people, and armed groups in the territory have shot dozens of rockets into southern Israel.

Settler violence

On Friday, Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem at the funeral of Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive, according to initial postmortem findings reported by local media citing the Palestinian attorney general. On Sunday, Israeli police arrested six people in connection with the death of Abu Khdeir.

Three of the six suspects arrested in connection with the murder have reportedly confessed to committing the crime, Israeli news reported — though the information was under a gag order. The suspects reportedly reenacted the crime, following the route of the car in which the Palestinian teen was kidnapped.

Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s 15-year-old cousin, Tariq Abu Khdeir, who is a U.S. citizen, was released on bail Sunday by Israeli authorities after being beaten by police and then detained at his cousin’s funeral for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli security forces. The beating was captured on video.

Tariq Abu Khdeir’s 14-day detention was changed to nine days of house arrested near the Shuafat neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The family plans to return to the United States on July 16. The U.S. State Department has condemned the attack on Tariq Abu Khdeir.

In the past month, Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem have been on the rise. In 2013, there were nearly 400 settlers attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Early Monday, settlers attacked Palestinian villagers in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus. Witnesses said the settlers threw stones at Palestinian cars traveling near the illegal settlement of Halamish, located near the Palestinian village of Deir Nidam, according to Palestinian website Maan News. Israeli forces at the scene opened fire on the Palestinian villagers who had confronted the settlers, Maan said.

On Saturday, settlers kidnapped and reportedly attempted to murder 22-year-old Palestinian Tariq Ziad Zuhdi Adeli near the West Bank city of Nablus, Maan reported. After forcing Adeli into their car, they took him to a remote area and attacked him with a hatchet, leaving him bleeding. He was able to call for help and survived.

Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq said in a news release Monday that Israel’s settlement policy is to blame for the recent hostilities between Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

“The illegal Israeli settlement policy of transferring Israeli civilians into occupied territory is directly responsible for creating a hostile environment that puts civilians, both Israelis and Palestinians, in harm’s way,” Al Haq said. “The events of the preceding weeks provide a glimpse into a bleak future with continued settlement expansion.”

The organization added that seven Palestinians have been killed by Israeli live fire since Israel launched its military crackdown on the West Bank in response to the abduction of three Israeli teenagers.