Israel begins Gaza ground offensive after 8 days

Columns of tanks backed by helicopters crossed the boundary fence from three directions into the northern Gaza Strip under darkness, a Palestinian witness said.

Israel begins Gaza ground offensive after 8 days


Israeli troops have entered the Gaza on Saturday in the first ground assault of an eight-day offensive on the Palestinian enclave, a witness and the Israeli army said.

Columns of tanks backed by helicopters crossed the boundary fence from three directions into the northern Gaza Strip under darkness, a Palestinian witness said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed the ground assault.

The witness said fighting had broken out in northern Gaza as Hamas fighters took on the Israeli forces.

Israeli soldiers and armour had been massed on the border for days awaiting a possible invasion as Israeli firepower pounded Gaza from land, sea and air.

An Israeli air strike earlier on Saturday killed 11 Palestinian worshippers, including children, and wounded dozens at a mosque in Beit Lahiya, Hamas officials and medics said.

Rescuers pulled civilian victims from the debris and the bodies lay in pools of blood, witnesses said.

The mosque raid brought the Palestinian death toll to at least 446, with about 2,050 wounded, in the worst sustained bloodshed in decades of Israeli occupations.

Israeli air strikes attacked Gaza from early morning on Saturday and naval vessels also shelled the area from the Mediterranean, witnesses said.

One Israeli strike killed Abu Zakaria al-Jamal, a senior commander of Hamas's armed wing, Hamas said. He was the second Hamas leader killed in three days.

"Whoever thought a change in the political area could come through the bombs of planes and the tanks and without dialogue is an illusionist," it said in a Hamas statement after a cabinet meeting in Gaza in an undisclosed location.

European protests

The attacks have sparked a wave of protests around the world, where thousands of demonstrators marched in solidarity with the Palestinians in European cities on Saturday.

In Paris, more than 20,000 demonstrators, many wearing Arab keffiyeh headscarves, chanted slogans like "Israel murderer!".

In London, 10,000 protesters led by singer Annie Lennox carried Palestinian flags and placards with slogans such as "End the siege on Gaza" and "Stop the massacre".

No shelter from Israeli bombs

The plight of the 1.5 million Palestinians crammed into Gaza was growing more desperate. People sheltered in their homes and humanitarian agencies warned that food, water and medical supplies were running short.

"Nobody feels safe," an International Committee of the Red Cross worker said in a report on the body's website.

"The problem is that we have nowhere to run for shelter."

The electric power plant has shut down and the sanitation system cannot treat the sewage. In the winter cold, fuel for heating and cooking was no longer available, aid agencies said.

"We do not sleep at all at night. We stayed awake the whole night because of the planes," said Umm Kamel, a mother of 11 baking bread on a wood fire in her home in Gaza.

The Israeli cabinet said it had called up about 9,000 reservists as part of its preparations.

 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said in a statement that, in accordance with a secret cabinet discussion on Friday, the government ordered the armed forces "to draft the necessary reservists, on a scale of tens of thousands of troops".











Agencies

Last Mod: 03 Ocak 2009, 23:41
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