Al Jazeera English / January 5, 2009
Heavy fighting has taken place in and around Gaza City with Palestinian fighters putting up a stiff resistance to advancing Israeli ground forces. Large explosions and intense gun battles were reported from the Shejaiya neighbourhood late on Monday. Flares lit up the skies as Israeli helicopter gunships and fighter jets flew low over the the city.
A spokesman of the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, told Al Jazeera that Israeli tanks were trying to move into Gaza City. He said that the group’s fighters had destroyed an Israeli armoured personnel carrier in the clashes.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from the Gaza Strip, said that much of the fighting took place around a high area on the outskirts of the city. “The strategic overlook essentially gives an overview of the entire northern part of Gaza .. that’s why it probably has some significance to the Israeli military,” he said. “Because of its height and elevation it has probably also been used to fire rockets into Israel.”
Fierce fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters was also reported in eastern Jabliya in the northern Gaza Strip.
“All of Gaza is dark except for the flares fired by F-16s and Apaches [helicopter gunships]. The F-16s for the first time are flying very low and shooting missiles everywhere,” Moussa el-Hadda, a retired doctor in the Gaza Strip, said. “Nobody can leave their home, we have no shelters and Israel knows this. They just bombed everywhere and most of their bombs are hitting houses,” he told Al Jazeera.
Earlier, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, told members of parliament that Gaza City was partially surrounded. “We have hit Hamas hard, but we have not yet reached all the goals that we have set for ourselves,” he said.
Dozens of Palestinians were reported to have been detained during the Israeli push into the Gaza Strip.
Despite 10 days of constant bombardment of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military, causing the deaths of at least than 548 Palestinians, a senior Hamas official said on Monday that “victory is coming” for Palestinian fighters. Mahmoud al-Zahar said that the movement’s armed wing had “given the most beautiful performances during its confrontation with the army that the world thought invincible”. “We will defeat it, God willing,” he said.
Israeli officials say the assault on Gaza is aimed at stopping Hamas firing rockets into southern Israel.
Al-Zahar warned that Israel’s war on Gaza had opened it up to retribution by Palestinian fighters. “They have legitimised the murder of their own children by killing the children of Palestine,” he said. “They have legitimised the destruction of their synagogues and their schools by hitting our mosques and our schools.”
Palestinian fighters have continued to fire rockets into southern Israel despite the Israeli military operation. But Major Avital Leibovitch, an Israeli military spokeswoman, told Al Jazeera that the cross-border attacks were being slowed. “Those rockets are coming less and less, because today we have had approximately 20 launchings which is one-tenth of Hamas’s original launching capabilities … there are signs that Hamas is weakening,” she said. “The second stage of the operation is going as planned, we have a variety of forces joining in this and it is proceeding according to the plan.”
Abu Obeida, the spokesman for Hamas’s Izz-e-din Al-Qassam Brigades, warned the Israeli military that it had many fighters ready to face it in the Gaza Strip. “We have prepared thousands of brave fighters who are waiting for you in each corner of the street and will welcome you with fire and iron,” he said. “As long as the aggression intensifies, your losses will increase and you will sink further into the Gaza quagmire.”
Al Jazeera’s Mohyeldin said that the ongoing fighting was “not a battle between two armies”. “The Palestinian factions’ biggest weapon, they say, is their will and resolve. What they are using are small to medium sized machine guns … nothing particularly sophisticated,” he said. “The style of warfare they are engaging in is a cladestine one where they can simply melt away, they have the agility advantage over the Israelis because they are not operating large vehicles, they are mostly on foot.”
”]Palestinian civilians are continuing to suffer as the Israeli military pushes deeper into the Gaza Strip. At least 548 people have been killed in the territory in the last 10 days, with at least 100 deaths reported since the Israeli ground offensive began on Saturday.
Among the dead on Monday was a family of seven from Shati refugee camp, who were killed by Israeli navy shelling. Three siblings from one family, as well as a girl and her grandfather, also died in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza during artillery shelling.
Emergency medical services have also come under attack with the al-Awda hospital in Jabaliya being hit by two Israeli shells, foreign human rights activists said. “Two consecutive shells just landed in the busy car park 15 metres from the entrance to the emergency room,” Alberto Arce of the International Solidarity Movement said in a statement. “The entrance of the emergency room was damaged. At the time of the shelling ambulances were bringing in the wounded that keep pouring in.”
On Sunday, an Israeli raid killed at least four paramedics as they tried to reach wounded Palestinians. Ambulances have also been hit in the attacks, Palestinian sources said. Israeli government officials say they are not targeting civilians, but only seeking to halt rocket fire from the Palestinian Hamas movement governing Gaza.
There are also fears that the humanitarian situation will further deteriorate as the strip, home to 1.5 million people, is suffering from acute shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies. Iyad Nasr of the Red Cross in Gaza City said that the military operation has worsened the hardships created by the Israeli blockade over the last 18 months. “The size of the operations and the size of the misery we are seeing here on the ground is just overwhelming,” he said. “We are trying our best to support the infrastructure that has been depleted … and prevent the total collapse of the medical systems.
Nasr also said that aid workers and emregency medical personnel were finding it increasingly difficult to move around the territory after the Israeli military effectively split it in two. “The ICRC has to contact the Israeli authorities for each single wounded to be evacuated with an ambulance,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said that many other Gazans have fled their homes taking refuge in schools converted into temporary shelters by UN agencies. “The United Nations says 13,000 people, over 2,000 families, have now been internally displaced because of the fighting, and that is just in the north of the strip,” he said.
‘People are suffering’
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, has said that there is no crisis and that aid is getting through, but Christopher Gunness, the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) spokesman, said her denials were absurd. “The organisation for which I work – Unrwa – has approximately 9,000 to 10,000 workers on the ground. They are speaking with the ordinary civilians in Gaza… People are suffering,” he said. “A quarter of all those being killed now are civilians. So when I hear people say we’re doing our best to avoid civilian casualties that rings very hollow indeed.”About 250,000 people in the northern part of Gaza are also reported to be without electricity. The main power plant has been shut down for lack of fuel due to Israel’s blockade.
The British-based Save The Children charity on Monday warned that newborn babies in the Gaza strip were at risk of hypothermia because of the power cuts and freezing winter temperatures. “We need to deliver more food and blankets to ensure that children do not die of hunger and cold,” Dominic Nutt, a spokesman for the group, said. “People also must be able to move freely and safely so they can provide for their families when food does become available.”
Despite the crisis in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, said the group was heading for “victory” against the Israeli military. He said that Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz-e-din al-Qassam Brigades, had “given the most beautiful performances during its confrontation with the army that the world thought invincible”.
Palestinian factions have continued to launch rockets into southern Israel, despite more than a week of aerial bombardment by Israel and the ground offensive.
One Israeli soldier has been confirmed killed in the Gaza assault so far, with at least 49 others wounded. Four Israelis have also been killed by Palestinian rockets.