Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Blitzkrieg on Gaza

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Blitzkrieg on Gaza

Article excerpt

IN LESS THAN three minutes on Dec. 27, 2008, beginning at 11:25 a.m. local time, an airborne assault force of 60 Israeli F-16s with supporting helicopter gunships unleashed terror on the Gaza Strip, bombing more than 100 predominantly civilian locations. Hundreds were killed and injured in Israel's initial attack on Gaza, policemen as well as civilians. Israeli officials cited "security" and "retribution for rocket fire" as justification for the massacre launched on the Jewish Sabbath.

After a week of unrelenting aerial bombardment, Israel launched a ground offensive on Jan. 4. Its American-made tanks entered Gaza at multiple points, including east of Gaza City and at Jabalya in the north, and at Rafah in the south, where the invading Israeli troops clashed with Hamas militants. Israel carried the battle to the airwaves, breaking into Hamas-controlled television and radio broadcasts to announce in the manner of a military coup leader, "Hamas leadership, your time is finished."

As the assault entered its 12th day, Israeli F-16s, unmanned drones and tanks continued to bomb Gaza with Hellfire missiles, smart bombs and heavy artillery. The armed wings of Hamas and other Palestinian factions not under Hamas control responded by firing homemade rockets with a maximum range of five to ten miles into southern Israel. These rockets have caused major anxiety within the Israeli populations of several towns near the Strip, including Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and Sderot, as well as towns in the western Negev.

Hamas spokesman Mushair Al Masri said that Israel had crossed all red lines. "We will not give up and raise the white flags, and we will kneel down only before God! We will rebuild the mosques, universities and police stations. All that has been destroyed will come back to life, and this occupation will end," vowed Al Masri. The youngest member of Parliament, he is one of the new Hamas leaders to appear after Israel assassinated Shiekh Ahmed Yassin and Abdelaziz Al Rantisi.

Twenty-eight Israeli soldiers were wounded, two seriously, during the ground invasion, an Israeli army spokesman confirmed to news agencies. Israeli sources did not confirm Hamas claims that it had killed additional Israeli troops. Palestinian casualty figures change by the minute. In the first 20 days of fighting, more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed and more than 4,600 injured-mostly civilians, according to medical sources.

Two days prior to the launch of its ground offensive, Israel allowed more than 400 Gazans with dual citizenship to leave the Strip. Many chose to stay with their families, however, as their spouses and dependents were not permitted to leave with them.

As each day comes to an end, the people of Gaza struggle to collect the dead and account for the living, not knowing if they will live to see tomorrow. What follows is a sampling of stories and experiences during the first two weeks of the Israeli offensive.

Caught in the Carnage

Ahmed Abu Ghazzah, former coordinator for the Ministry of Health and the father of six, was caught in the blitzkrieg and-so far-has lived to tell about it. Widely respected for maintaining his neutrality on the conflict, the 40-year-old Gazan was the sole Palestinian liaison with Israeli authorities. His voice shook as he recounted his experience:

"It was quiet as my wife and I drove somewhere nearby the Islamic Charity Association in Deir Al Balah to visit relatives. Suddenly, Israeli F-16s began dropping bombs all around. Terrified, my wife and I jumped from the car. The street was empty-we had no protection. They targeted everywhere: police, mosques, civilian homes and streets. I was so afraid that I or my wife would be killed! There was nothing we could do to protect ourselves."

This is the worst he's seen in Gaza in his 13 years of experience in the medical field, Abu Ghazzah said, describing it as "Deir Yassin with the Sabra and Shatila massacres combined. …

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