Vatican cardinal calls Gaza “big concentration camp”

Pope Benedict’s point man for justice and peace issues on Wednesday issued the Vatican’s toughest criticism of Israel since the latest Mideast crisis began, calling Gaza a “big concentration camp.”

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, made his comments in an interview in the Italian online newspaper Il

“Defenceless populations are always the ones who pay. Look at the conditions in Gaza: more and more, it resembles a big concentration camp,” Martino, whose informal title is Vatican “justice minister,” was quoted as saying. [continued…]

Barak, Livni, Olmert at loggerheads over exit strategy of Gaza operation

Israel’s three top cabinet ministers cannot agree on the best way to end the military operation in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak want to reach a deal, with the help of the United States and Egypt, that will guarantee long-term quiet in the south and keep Hamas from getting stronger. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni prefers to end the operation now, without an agreement.

Meanwhile, Barak ordered the Israel Defense Forces yesterday to get ready for a significant expansion of its activities in Gaza, which would focus on bringing reserve forces into the enclave. The preparations for the next phase of Operation Cast Lead are underway as the government considers Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s cease-fire proposal.

The decision about whether to expand the Gaza operation will be made over the next few days, political sources in Jerusalem said. In the meantime, the political-security cabinet decided yesterday that military activity will remain at its current level and humanitarian aid to Gaza residents will be expanded. [continued…]

Hamas pulling back into crowded cities, beckoning Israelis

When thousands of heavily armed Israeli soldiers poured into the Gaza Strip on Saturday night, Hamas pulled back.

Rather than stand and fight against the Middle East’s strongest army, the Islamist movement opted for a tactical withdrawal, with its fighters melting away into the strip’s sprawling cities and refugee camps, according to Gaza residents and Israeli military analysts and officers.

Now, Hamas appears to be daring the Israeli troops to follow.

“They’re hitting here and there with antitank missiles and mortars. Overall, though, they’re not confronting the Israeli presence in Gaza,” said retired Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. “They’re challenging the Israeli military to enter the built-up areas.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — No doubt the IDF would like its opponents to come out into the open and present themselves as easy targets. But as Hamas is denounced for using “human shields” it is likewise following the classic Maoist principle of guerilla warfare: The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue. And lest we forget — this is a defensive form of warfare; it really only works for those defending their own turf.

What kind of security will this barbarism bring Israel?

Israel has killed and wounded almost four thousand men, women and children so far in its assault on Gaza; it has entombed whole families together in the ruins of their homes. As I write these words, news is breaking that Israeli bombs have killed at least 40 civilians huddling in a UN school which they mistakenly thought would be safer than the homes from which Israel’s relentless barrage—and its deliberately terrorizing “warning” leaflets and prerecorded phone calls—had already driven them. (I still have one of the leaflets the Israelis dropped on besieged Beirut in 1982 and the language is exactly the same—“flee, flee for your lives!”). Mosques, schools, houses, apartment buildings, have all been brought down on the heads of those inside.

All this death and destruction comes supposedly in retaliation for rocket attacks that had not inflicted a single fatality inside Israel in over a year. What happened to “an eye for an eye?”

As horrific as the toll of dead and injured already is, the scale of Israel’s bombing, and its targeting of ambulances and medical and rescue crews—several doctors and paramedics have been killed or wounded so far—means that the true totals are actually unknown. Countless numbers of victims have bled to death in the streets or in the ruins of their smashed homes. Calls for help aren’t getting through Gaza’s phone networks, battered to pieces along with the rest of the civilian infrastructure—its water, sewage, electricity systems, all already crumbling as a result of the years of siege. The victims that are evacuated—as often, these days, in civilian cars as in the remaining ambulances—make it to hospitals that are overwhelmed; many will die that might have otherwise been saved. [continued…]

Rockets from Lebanon hit Israel

At least three rockets fired from Lebanon exploded in northern Israel today in the first such attack since Israel launched an assault in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip nearly two weeks ago.

Israel fired artillery shells into Lebanon to retaliate for the rockets, which landed after daybreak around the town of Nahariya. Israeli medical workers said one of the rockets from Lebanon caused light shrapnel wounds to two women in a home for the elderly.

The Israeli military had been on alert for rocket attacks by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, a Hamas ally, since starting the Gaza offensive Dec. 27. Police said the rockets were Katyushas, the kind Hezbollah used during its 34-day war with Israel in mid-2006.

No group claimed responsibility for today’s rocket attacks. Small Palestinian groups unaffiliated with Hezbollah also possess Katyushas. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Is this the opening of the infamous “second front”? Highly improbable, I would say. Most likely a few guys who couldn’t stand it any more. In a somewhat meaningless act of defiance, they decided they would try and rattle Israeli nerves, though as a result there are probably now as many jangling nerves in Beirut as there are south of the border.

An unnecessary war

I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided.

After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism. Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. Mayor Eli Moyal assembled a group of citizens in his office to meet us and complained that the government of Israel was not stopping the rockets, either through diplomacy or military action.

Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire. From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.

We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day. [continued…]

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