Violence escalating in Gaza

2012-11-16 08:49
Gaza City – A Hamas rocket killed three Israelis – the first Israeli fatalities in 24 hours of fighting – while the Palestinian death toll rose to 15, on the second day of a new Israeli offensive on Gaza.

Tens of thousands, meanwhile, march in Gaza City in the funeral procession of Hamas military commander-in-chief Ahmed al-Ja’abari, whose killing in a targeted air strike on his car Wednesday afternoon was the opening shot of the Israeli offensive, codenamed “Pillar of Defence.”

The mourners chanted “death to Israel,” and fired into the air.

The Islamist movement ruling Gaza said that by yesterday afternoon, it had launched at least 121 missiles and mortar shells at southern Israel, while the smaller Islamic Jihad said it launched another 108.

But the damage was reduced by batteries of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, which downed well over a third of them, an army spokesman told dpa.

Israel, for its part, shelled at least 227 targets in Gaza from the air and sea.

Some 15 Palestinians were killed, the Hamas-run Safa news agency reported, and more than 150 injured. At least four of the dead were civilians. Safa said they were a young pregnant woman, an 11-month-old baby boy, a three-year-old girl and a 65-year-old man.

At least nine were militants, six of the members of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing. It was not immediately clear whether the other two were civilians or militants, but one of them was said to be a girl, who died of her injuries.

One Hamas rocket directly hit a four-storey apartment building in Qiryat Malachi, some 25 kilometres north of Gaza, killing two Israeli women and a man. Six others were injured, including an 8-month-old baby, the Magen David Adom first aid service said.

World leaders expressed concern of the escalation, with UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon in a telephone conversation with Iraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging a “measured” response to the recurring Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, “so as not to provoke a new cycle of bloodshed that could have ... dangerous spillover effects in the region.”

Arab states, including Syria and Lebanon, which called it “barbaric” and “bestial” respectively, condemned the Israeli campaign, criticized also by Moscow as “disproportionate.”

But Washington said it “supported Israel’s right to defend itself,” and British Foreign Secretary William Hague said “Hamas bears the principle responsibility for the current crisis.”

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi recalled his ambassador to Tel Aviv and said “Israel must realise that we do not accept aggression, which negatively affects security and stability in the region.”

Israel launched the offensive after Palestinian militants fired well over 100 rockets and mortar shells at it in three days of violence since Saturday – the latest round, which followed another in late October.

Hamas also claimed that it had fired an Iranian-type Fajr-5 missile in the direction of greater Tel Aviv, whose southern outskirts are at a distance of some 50 kilometres from Gaza, for the first time in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.