The Israeli government said it initiated “Operation Pillar of Defense,” in response to stepped-up missile attacks by Hamas and other Islamist groups in recent weeks targeting civilian areas in southern Israel.
The Israeli assault began with an airstrike that assassinated Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari.
As usual, the Israeli response was vastly disproportionate. Through Nov. 18, Israeli forces from air and sea had carried out more than 1,000 strikes throughout Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Targets initially were Hamas’ weapons storage facilities and rocket launching sites, but have been expanded to include government buildings, a mosque in central Gaza, residences of Hamas leaders and infrastructure.
The Israeli military knocked out five electrical transformers, plunging more than 400,000 people into darkness, a spokesperson for the Gaza electric company told al-Jazeera. Phone service disruptions have prevented the Militant from contacting anyone in the area.
“We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself,” President Barack Obama said Nov. 18 during his visit to Thailand, adding it is “preferable” that Tel Aviv not launch a ground invasion.
Missile strikes Nov. 18 on two buildings in Gaza City with offices of Palestinian and international media injured at least six journalists. That same day an attack aimed at killing Hamas military commander Yihia Abayah flattened the al-Dalu family house, killing at least 11 Palestinian civilians, reported the Financial Times. This includes five women and four children, Gaza health officials told the Associated Press.
Tel Aviv has bombed many of the tunnels built between Egypt and Gaza through which arms for Hamas come into the country as well as food, fuel and other goods. The Israeli government halted supplies from entering Gaza from Israel days before its military operation began.
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 87 Palestinians had been killed by the Israeli military assault as of Nov. 19. Of these 58 are civilians, including 18 children and 12 women. Hundreds have been injured, mostly civilians, the center reports.
Thousands of Israeli troops are now stationed at the border with Gaza. The Israeli cabinet Nov. 16 approved a call-up of 75,000 reservists, poised for a possible ground invasion.
In response to the Israeli offensive, Hamas fired more than 500 rockets and mortars into Israel Nov. 14-19, according to the Israeli military, killing three civilians and wounding dozens. The three deaths occurred when a projectile slammed into an apartment building in the working-class neighborhood of Kiryat Malakhi, 15 miles north of Gaza.
On Nov. 15, Hamas began launching longer-range M-75 rockets, capable of traveling 45 miles, that have reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time.
“Tel Aviv, which we hit, will be hit over and over until you stop your crimes against our civilians,” said Mosheer Al Masri, a leader of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, Nov. 19 outside the burial of the al-Dalu family killed in an Israeli airstrike, reported the New York Times. He threatened to capture and hold hostage Israeli soldiers if there’s a ground invasion, as Hamas did in 2006.
While Hamas leaders have issued defiant statements, most of its top leaders have gone into hiding.
Much of Hamas’ missile launchings are conducted from working-class residential areas, with little if any warning or preparation for residents, who then bear the brunt of the Israeli response.
Upon launching its offensive, the Israeli Defense Forces sent text messages to about 12,000 Gaza residents “warning them to stay away from Hamas operatives,” reported the Times.
“My family and I left al-Karama two days ago” where several military compounds are located, Mohammed Abu Qassem told USA Today in Gaza City Nov. 16. “Although we were expecting a better situation in my brother’s area, we experienced the shattering sound of at least seven or eight massive explosions last night.”
According to a Haaretz-Dialog poll Nov. 18, some 84 percent of Israeli citizens support Tel Aviv’s current military operation, but only 30 percent support a ground invasion.
Several hundred people demonstrated in Tel Aviv Nov. 17 against “Operation Pillar of Defense,” reported the Jerusalem Post. A rally in Nazareth that evening drew 1,500 people, both Jewish and Arab, organizers told the Post.
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip for 38 years, after capturing the territory from Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It withdrew its forces in September 2005, but continues to control the airspace, borders and the coast. In 2008-2009 Tel Aviv carried out a three-week invasion of Gaza, killing 1,400 Palestinians.
Representatives of Tel Aviv and Hamas are in Cairo where the Egyptian government is trying to broker a cease-fire, Haaretz reported Nov 19.
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Protests of Israeli bombing of Gaza held in NY
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