Israel's last surge before a Gaza cease-fire?
The UN headquarters in Gaza was struck by Israeli fire. Fissures are emerging among Israeli civilian and military leaders over how and when to end the campaign.
(Page 2 of 2)
In the crosshairs are senior Hamas figures who have gone underground, including Mahmoud az-Zahar – whose home was hit by the Israeli air force late Wednesday night. Hamas Interior Minister Saeed Seyyam was also killed Thursday. Mr. Seyyam controlled Hamas police and security forces of about 13,000 men, many of whom were directly involved with fighting.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Many observers say that IDF strategists have a short-list of targets they want to strike before a cease-fire. The Israel defense establishment, they say, is loath to slow down and give the impression that it's tired or is lacking in the will to continuing fighting Hamas.
But Israel missile strikes drew even sharper international condemnation on Thursday, in particular from the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, who is in Israel trying to bring about a cease-fire that would end Israel's attacks on Gaza and the continued launch of rockets at Israel by Hamas militants.
Into the afternoon Thursday, the UN headquarters in Gaza, where some 700 Palestinian civilian had sought shelter, was still burning out of control, several hours after it was hit, forcing the suspension of major aid operations in the coastal territory. The chief of operations there said there wasn't enough water to douse the flames, a result of Gaza's battered infrastructure in the 20-day war with Israel.
"The warehouses are burning down, the fire is spreading, and we're very concerned," says John Ging, the director of operations in Gaza for UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN's main arm for aid to Palestinians.
"There's a shortage of water and that's why it's spreading. All the food, medicine, and humanitarian aid we have to distribute in Gaza are stored here," Ging adds.
The solution is to "stop the shooting, respect the UN, and then we can start to rebuild. Our compound is falling apart before my eyes! There are a million-and-half people depending on aid from us, and an attack on our compound is another challenge that we can do without."
Mr. Ban, a diplomat who usually speaks in carefully crafted statements, issued his strongest statement to date on the conflict, which mushroomed on Dec. 27 after a six-month cease-fire expired and Hamas resumed rocket fire at Israel.
"I conveyed my strong protest and outrage to the defense minister and the foreign minister and demanded a full explanation," said Ban, who had met Ms. Livni earlier Thursday as part of a multi-national effort to bring the devastating 20-day-old war to an end.
Ban said in a press conference that he spoken to Barak. "The defense minister said to me it was a grave mistake and he took it very seriously," Ban said. "He assured me that extra attention will be paid to UN facilities and staff and this will not be repeated."
A UN spokesman said that the headquarters was hit by what was believed to be three white phosphorous shells, which burn at higher-than-usual temperatures, and that UN workers were unable to douse the flames with standard fire extinguishers.
Thursday marked the second time since the war began that a UN facility took a direct hit from Israel.
Last week, Israeli forces bombed a UN-run school in Jabalya, in northern Gaza, killing 39 Palestinians sheltering there. The Israeli army says it hit the school because it was the source of mortar fire, but the UN says that no militants were found at the site.
At press time, emergency services in Beersheba, Israel, were dealing with the aftermath rocket attack there.
One of the Qassams launched by Hamas made a direct hit on a car. In all, Gaza militants fired at least 24 rockets at Israel Thursday, hitting cities such as Gedera, Ofakim, and Sderot. The wail of sirens, sending people in and out of bomb shelters, was heard throughout the day.