|Al Jazeera, Dec 30, 2008 |
Israel has warned that the onslaught in the Gaza Strip could last for “weeks” as the fourth consecutive day of aerial attacks targeted several Hamas government buildings.
Around 350 people have been killed, many of them civilians, and local hospitals have warned they are unable to cope with any more casualties.
Palestinian medical workers said at least 10 people had died in the latest raids on Tuesday, with security guards and civilians among those killed.
But Israel said there would be no let up until the threat of Palestinian rockets attacks from the Gaza Strip had been removed.
“There is no room for a ceasefire,” Meir Sheetrit, Israel’s interior minister, said.
“The government is determined to remove the threat of [rocket] fire on the south.
“Therefore the Israeli army must not stop the operation before breaking the will of Palestinians, of Hamas, to continue to fire at Israel.”
Four Israeli citizens have been killed by missiles fired from Palestinian positions since the offensive began on Saturday.
The Israeli army has been massing infantry and armoured forces along the border amid increasing fears that a ground invasion is planned.
Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy defence minister, said the military “has made preparations for some long weeks of action”.
On Monday, areas of the border were declared “closed military zones” and thousands of reservists have been called up by the Israeli military.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said that there was little the residents of the strip could do to prepare for any possible ground assault.”In a city that is so densely-populated, a ground offensive would mean urban warfare, street-to-street fighting … leaving many Palestinians in the crossfire,” he said.
“Unlike other conflict zones where there is the possibility to flee the war zone, Gaza itself has become the war zone. There is nowhere for the population to go, they are in the middle of all these attacks.”
Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, has added his voice to calls for an end to the violence.
Speaking at UN headquarters in New York on Monday, he said both sides should end the fighting and said regional powers should do more to help resolve the crisis.
“All this must stop,” Ban told a press conference.
“Both Israel and Hamas must halt their acts of violence and take all necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties. A ceasefire must be declared immediately. They must also curb their inflammatory rhetoric.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera, the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, said the Israeli offensive was aimed at Hamas and not the Palestinian people, urging civilians to leave for safer places away from places close to Hamas infrastructure.
“We tried to avoid this. You know that Israel accepted the truce that was initiated by the Egyptians in order to create peace and quiet. We adopted the truce. What we got in return? We got in return daily attacks, we got in return smuggling of weapons to Gaza Strip with long-range [capabilities],” she said.
Support for Israel came from the US, with the White House saying Hamas must halt cross-border rocket fire.
“In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable ceasefire,” Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman said.