JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife)– Israel continued military attacks in the Gaza Strip Monday, January 12, with troops moving further into the world’s most populated region and Israeli warplanes pounding homes of Hamas fighters and smuggling tunnels near the Egyptian border.
Palestinian officials warned the death toll of the 17-day offensive, known as ‘Operation Cast Lead’ approached 900 with roughly 3,500 injured so far amid fears the death toll could rise as troops closed in on Gaza City.
There was also concern about the situation of up to 3,000 minority Christians in the Gaza Strip, following at least one Israeli air strike near a church and reports that at least one Christian girl was killed, apparently of a heart attack, while watching an explosion caused by Israeli bombing.
And, with many civilians in Gaza living now without electricity and running water, the crisis is escalating, Christians said. Two Palestinian pastors told Worthy News there is a “humanitarian crisis” and that they have requested prayer for believers in Gaza, “not only that they would be protected, but they would become a beacon of light” within Gaza. “With so many needs, we just want to help as many as possible,” said one pastor speaking on condition of anonymity citing security concerns.
He said his church had also requested prayer “for innocent civilians on both sides of the conflict as well as financial aid” so they could assist “the many that are struggling since the conflict began.”
Despite calls for a ceasefire by the United Nations, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made clear over the weekend, there can be no truce as long as fighters from the Hamas group fire rockets into Israel.
“We are in the middle of a battle against the Gaza killers, those that murder Israelis and don’t hesitate to expose the residents of Gaza to indescribable, pointless, and unfounded misery,” he said Monday, January 12, speaking at a ceremony at the French-Israeli school in the Israeli town of Mikveh.
He said earlier at his weekly cabinet meeting that, “Further patience, determination and efforts are necessary to achieve [our] goals in a way that will change the security reality in the south, so that our citizens will be able to feel long-term security and stability.”
As he spoke, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) continued its operations, also targeting dozens of targets on Saturday and Sunday, including a mosque that allegedly served as a training facility and a warehouse for improved anti-tank missiles.
“Finally Israel is showing the resolve to deal with the terrorist infrastructure — and Israel hasn’t seen this kind of resolve since the 1948 war for Independence,” one local resident told Worthy News.
The IDF also said that Hamas’ commander of its rocket program, Amir Mansi, was killed on Saturday night, January 9. Just before his death, he reportedly clashed with his subordinates, who allegedly refused to come out of their hideouts to launch mortar shells and was forced to launch the attack himself.
Mansi was “directly responsible” for firing dozens of rockets into Israel, and was considered the leading Hamas authority on its newly acquired Grad missile program, the Israeli military said.
The new rockets increased have been hitting targets further away, as far away as the Israeli cities of Kiryat Gat and Be’er Sheva. An estimated one million Israeli are threatened by Hamas’ rockets, according to Israeli estimates.
A video released by the IDF, and monitored by BosNewsLife’s partner news agency, Worthy News, also detailed the use of schools as well as a zoo that was apparently filled with explosives by Hamas. The IDF said it managed to neutralize the bombs before detonation.
As fighting continued, the International Red Cross said the IDF failed to allow rescuers access to houses in the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City for four days, where it claimed to find four children lying next to their dead mothers.
“Medical emergency personnel, particularly from the Palestine Red Crescent Society, must be granted safe unlimited passage so that they can reach the wounded, treat them and, if necessary, evacuate them to a medical facility,” said Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross in comments monitored by Worthy News.
However the IDF said earlier it had discovered “several Hamas gunman” hiding within Red Crescent ambulances. It was unclear whether the gunmen were injured or to verify these claims, as Israel has refused to allow foreign journalists access to the Gaza Strip to cover the story.
Arabic news network Al-Jazeera is the apparently the only foreign television network that has reporters operating in Gaza.
Last week, the U.N. said one of its drivers was killed and two other co-workers injured by IDF tank fire. However, the Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted a medic at the scene as saying Hamas snipers targeted the aid workers. The two wounded Palestinians were reportedly being treated for gunshot wounds at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital. There was no comment from Hamas.
Amid ongoing clashes an international delegation of Lutheran bishops and other church officials is visiting Israel and the West Bank to investigate the situation and promote peace, including in Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born.
However there were no signs of peace coming closer Monday, January 11, after the Israeli Air Force (IAF) dropped leaflets warning civilians that it plans to escalate its two-week old offensive.
“In the near future, the IDF will continue to attack tunnels, arms caches, and terrorists with greater intensity all across the Strip. For your safety and the safety of your families, you are required to refrain from staying near terror elements or sites where weapons are being stored,” the leaflet read.
Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas since the assassination of Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, also rejected all Gaza ceasefire proposals, saying his organization would treat any international peacekeeping forces in the region as occupiers.
He also rejected any international inspection of tunnels used for smuggling by Hamas and accused Jewish people of being biased. “You complain about the Holocaust against you, but today you are creating a holocaust worthy of a museum. You won’t finish with the resistance; you are just making it stronger and accelerating the end to the existence of your entity.”
He said Israel “finished off the last chance and breath for settlement and negotiations.” Meshaal added that, “In all modesty…I can say with full confidence that on the military level the enemy has totally failed, it has not achieved anything. Has it stopped the rockets?”
A former-terrorist-turned-Christian, told Worthy News the militants will not accept surrender, and he said some “50,000 militants” are operating in the Gaza Strip. “The Israeli operation won’t bring a cease to the rocket fire,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions. Asked what would bring peace to the region, he replied: “Only Jesus.”
There have been mixed international reactions about Israel’s operation, however Israeli opinion polls show most people still support the offensive, altough there is mounting concern there about the civilians killed.