Israeli jets kill ‘more than 200′ in revenge strikes on Gaza

The Times first published the article with the following picture:
A wounded child awaits medical attention at the Shifa hospital

A few minutes later the Times exchanged it for this one:
The Israeli missile attacks left hundreds of Palestinians killed or wounded in the Bureij refugee camp and elsewhere in the Gaza Strip. The strikes, which involved 60 planes, came days after a six-month ceasefire with Hamas expired. The militant group vowed to carry out revenge attacks (Yasser Saymeh/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel yesterday launched its largest raid on Gaza with two waves of air attacks that killed at least 205 people and injured more than 700, according to Palestinian doctors.

Children on their way home from school and policemen parading for a graduation ceremony were the principal victims of a bloody few hours that left the territory in flames.

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The short but brutal aerial blitz was aimed at targets held by the Islamic fundamentalists of Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip 18 months ago.

After weeks of rising tension and repeated Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli territory, the air force struck with warplanes and unmanned drones loaded with guided missiles.

They hit at least 100 security compounds and rocket-launching bases across the heavily populated Strip.

The strikes caused panic and confusion as black clouds of smoke rose above the territory. Most of those killed were security men – including Gaza’s police chief – but an unknown number of civilians were also among the dead.

One perfectly aimed missile demolished the Hamas-control-led Rafah police station. But the building next door was a school and several pupils were on the street outside when a huge explosion sent shards of shrapnel and concrete hurtling in all directions. Parents rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children.

The strikes on Gaza yesterday were unparalleled. Israeli warplanes screamed in from the sea across Gaza in wave after wave, pounding at least 30 security compounds in the strip controlled by the Hamas government.

At 11.30am Israeli time, the first wave of 60 F16s screamed low over Gaza, launching rockets at 50 targets. Israeli military sources said a total of 100 missiles were fired at Hamas police stations, command centres, training bases and illicit manufacturing warehouses.

In the second wave, 20 Israeli jets returned, following up intelligence received from drones in the skies over the Strip. They launched 50 missiles aimed almost entirely at militants who had come out with makeshift rockets to hit back.

The offensive took Hamas by surprise. The Islamic fundamentalist government had expected retaliation for the 200 rockets that Hamas and other extremist groups have launched into southern Israel since a six-month truce expired earlier this month. It had believed, however, that the attack would follow an Israeli cabinet meeting today.

According to military sources, the Israeli leadership decided to attack after intelligence revealed that Hamas leaders and military officials were still inside key buildings.

So unprepared was Hamas that two graduation ceremonies for new police recruits were being held in the open air. In one strike, on a graduation ceremony in Gaza City, scores of police cadets were killed along with General Tawfiq Jabr, chief of the Palestinian police force, who had been presiding over the ceremony. At the parade ground uniformed bodies lay in piles, the wounded writhed in pain and cars and jeeps screamed up to carry the wounded to the hospitals.

“I was driving by when two or three jets came in with so much noise I didn’t know where to hide,” said Hamed Keshta. “The whole building went up into the sky. There was smoke everywhere. I ran to the area and there were just bodies, bodies and pieces of bodies.”

In Gaza City’s main security compound, the bodies of more than a dozen uniformed Hamas police lay on the ground. One survivor raised his index finger in a show of Muslim faith, uttering a prayer. One man, his face bloodied, sat dazed on the ground as a fire raged nearby.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, said it would expand the operation if necessary. “There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting and now is the time for fighting,” he told a news conference. He did not say whether a ground offensive was planned.

Gordon Brown, the Vatican and Tony Blair, in his role as Middle East envoy, all called for an immediate restoration of calm. A White House spokesman said: “Hamas’s continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop. The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza.”

Some of the Israeli missiles struck in densely populated areas. Gaza is home to about 1.5m Palestinians, at least half of whom are dependent on some kind of food aid.

Among the bereaved was Said Masri, 57, who sat in the middle of a Gaza City street, close to a security compound, alternately slapping his face and covering his head with dust from the bombed-out building.

“My son is gone, my son is gone,” he wailed. The shopkeeper said he had sent his son, 9, to buy cigarettes minutes before the airstrikes began and now could not find him. “May I burn like the cigarettes, may Israel burn,” Masri moaned.

At the Rafah hospital on the Gaza Strip, chaos followed the carnage. Families desperate to find missing children screamed for help. The attendant guarding the entrance to the morgue was mobbed by women begging to be allowed to examine the bodies that had been brought in after the raids.

“My son, my son, he was at school and has been missing since this morning,” howled a woman from the Abu Jazer family. Relatives who were admitted to the chilly morgue pulled out stainless steel drawers containing the bodies of four teenagers among 27 newly arrived corpses.

One of them was identified as Ahmed Abed Jazer, a 14-year-old pupil whose body had been wrapped in a white sheet by doctors. Shrapnel wounds in his head and stomach were still seeping blood as his distraught relatives confirmed his name.

One Gaza City man brought the body of his seven-year-old son to hospital but, finding no place in the morgue, took him home in a cardboard box. He said the boy would be buried in the back yard.

Shifa hospital, the main medical centre in Gaza, was overwhelmed. Bodies lined the corridors, relatives screamed in the emergency room, cars and trucks pulled up into the courtyard with their doors open, the wounded piled inside because there were not enough ambulances. Huge pillars of black smoke rose over the city.

“There are heads without bodies . . . There’s blood in the corridors. People are weeping, women are crying, doctors are shouting,” said Ahmed Abdel Salaam, a nurse.

The morgue had overflowed at Shifa hospital, and the stench was overwhelming because the electricity was cut throughout the city. “In every corner, there are bodies,” said a doctor. “The stink of death is overwhelming. We are throwing bodies on the floor because the morgue is full.”

Palestinian news stations began calling the day of the Israeli airstrikes “Black Saturday”, a reference to Black September when Jordan sent tanks into Palestinian camps inside its borders. That massacre led to the founding of the terrorist group Black September, which killed Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Israeli military officials said more than 100 tons of missiles had been fired at Gaza by mid-afternoon. By early evening 205 Gazans were known to be dead and 700 wounded, Gaza health official Dr Moaiya Hassanain said. He did not provide figures on civilian deaths. Some of the dead, rolled in blankets, were laid out on the floor of Gaza’s main hospital for identification. Earlier in the day, when the death toll stood at 155, police spokesman Ehud Ghussein had said about 140 Hamas security forces were killed.

Hamas leaders threatened revenge. Hamas “will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman.

Israel told its civilians near Gaza to take cover as militants began retaliating with rockets, and in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate Palestinian president, called for restraint. Egypt summoned the Israeli ambassador to express condemnation and opened its border with Gaza to allow ambulances to drive out some of the wounded.

Protests against the campaign erupted in Arab Israeli villages and the Abbas-ruled West Bank. The most violent West Bank response came in the city of Hebron, where dozens of youths, many of them masked, hurled rocks at Israeli forces, who lobbed tear gas and stun grenades in response.

Officials in Bethlehem, Jesus’s traditional birthplace, turned off Christmas lights and traders shuttered shops to protest at the Israeli attack.

In Ein Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, dozens of youths hit the streets and set fire to tyres. In Syria’s al-Yarmouk camp, outside Damascus, dozens of Palestinian protesters vowed to continue fighting Israel.

In the West Bank, Hamas’s rival, Abbas, said in a statement that he “condemns this aggression”. Abbas, who has ruled only the West Bank since the Islamic Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007, was in contact with Arab leaders, and his West Bank cabinet convened an emergency session.

Israel has targeted Gaza in the past, but the number of simultaneous attacks was unprecedented. It left Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation, but the withdrawal did not lead to better relations with Palestinians in the territory as Israeli officials had hoped.

Instead, the evacuation was followed by a sharp rise in militant attacks on Israeli border communities that on several occasions provoked harsh Israeli military reprisals. The last, in February and March, spurred both sides to agree to a truce that began unravelling in early November.

Since Hamas took power, it has created a militant “Hamas-tan”, whose borders and coast-line are sealed by Israel and whose only conduit to the outside world is through the Egyptians and Hamas’s radical leader, Khaled Mashaal, who is based in Damascus.

Additional reporting: Hamed Keshta in Gaza

The path to violence

January 25, 2006 Hamas wins Palestinian general elections, defeating the secular Fatah party

March 18 America, the European Union and Israel boycott the new government and say they will suspend aid

June Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, is captured and held hostage by Hamas. Israel launches operation to recover him and bombs bridges, roads and the only power station in Gaza

March 15, 2007 Palestinians reach agreement on unity government

June 15 Hamas crushes Fatah in Gaza after three days of fighting. Israel starts blockade

June 19, 2008 Truce between Israel and Hamas brokered by Egypt

November 4 Israeli army destroys a tunnel built by militants, sparking a new round of violence

December 19 Hamas’s six-month ceasefire with Israel ends

December 28, 2008
Marie Colvin, Tony Allen-Mills and Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv

Source: The Times

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