By BosNewsLife News Center with reporting from the region
BETHLEHEM/JERUSALEM (BosNewsLife)– Minority Christians in Gaza and the West Bank faced a dark night Saturday, December 27, as Israeli air strikes against suspected Hamas militants killed hunderds of Palestinians, and Christmas lights were shut off around Bethlehem, which Christians consider Jesus’ birthplace, to protest Israel’s actions.
At least 205 Palestinians were killed in the air raids on the Hamas-run territory, that marked one of the bloodiest days in the 60-year Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel said the action was in response to a barrage of rocket attacks on its territory by Hamas militants, who ended a cseasefire earlier this month.
“We have decided to shut off the decorative lights and the Christmas tree to protest against the massacres committed in Gaza,” Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh said in remarks published by French News Agency AFP. The move was expected to upset local Christians and outsiders as the giant Christmas tree in the city’s center was seen by churches as a way to symbolize the Christmas message of hope.
However, “Israel has sabotaged the holidays with these massacres,” Batarseh said. The Christmas tree stands in front of the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born some 2,000 years ago. It normally stays lit until the Orthodox Nativity celebrations in early January.
Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, defended her country’s actions and called for the support and understanding of the world.
She said it was retaliation for Hamas rocket and mortar attacks, which escalated after a six-month ceasefire expired a week ago.
“The international community understands that Hamas is an extreme Islamist organization that spreads its hatred in the entire region, which is being supported by Iran,” she said.
“And the international community needs to understand that this is the
translation of the right of Israel to defend itself, that there is no other alternative and we are doing what we need to do in order to defend our citizens.”
There have been mixed reactions to Israel’s actions. The United States blamed Hamas for breaking a ceasefire and provoking Israeli air strikes on Saturday, December 27. Washington did not call for an end to the Israeli attacks but urged it to avoid civilian casualties.
“What we’ve got to see is Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel, that’s what precipitated this,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, calling the Islamic group “thugs.”
The United States has worked to isolate Hamas
since it won a Palestinian parliamentary election in January 2006.
Israeli officials said the assault on the Gaza Strip in pursuit of Hamas may last some time. Elsewhere, in the Middle East, the Israeli attacks brought immediate condemnation from Arab leaders, and especially from Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum who said the Palestinian people would not “live in bloodshed and between body parts, wounded and dead people,” and that Israel must “pay the price” for what he called “this aggression.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah group is a rival of Hamas, denounced the airstrikes and called for restraint. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said in published remarks that his organization is shocked by the airstrikes, and condemns them as “an unimaginable and unacceptable act.”
The Arab League has scheduled an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss the situation. Egypt condemned the attacks as well, saying it would open its border with Gaza to allow some of the wounded to be brought out.
Protesters in Jordan’s capital, Amman, also condemned the air raids. Israel has peace agreements with both Egypt and Jordan, but there appeared to be growing strain with these nations following the attacks.
Israeli warplanes and helicopters launched a massive assault on Hamas installations across Gaza, with military sources saying 40 targets were destroyed in a span of just five minutes. Hamas was taken by surprise and there were heavy casualties when a graduation ceremony for new military officers was hit by missiles, news reports said. (This is a developing story. Stay with BosNewsLife for coverage with a difference. With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and others.) Are you there? Are you a church or Christian living in the Gaza? Share your comments, pictures, insights.