Tuesday 16 July 2019

Israeli troops mass for invasion of Gaza

Tim Butcher in Jerusalem

Israel called up 6,500 reservists yesterday in preparation for a ground assault on the Gaza Strip after warplanes pounded the area for a second day. The attacks have left 296 dead and 700 injured.

As governments around the world called for a halt to the violence, members of the Israeli tank corps were ordered to report to barracks.

The Israeli government said it would continue the offensive until Palestinian militants stopped firing rockets into Israel.

Aircrafts attempted to isolate the Gaza Strip by bombing the area where dozens of smuggler tunnels have been dug under the border into Egypt.

As the Palestinian death toll in the operation rose, there were no signs militants were stopping their rocket attacks on Israel.

One missile reached as far as the centre of the port city of Ashdod -- increasing the number of Israelis living in range of rocket strike by tens of thousands.

Calls from the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and the Pope went unheeded, as Israel mobilised reservists for a possible ground incursion into Gaza.

An Israeli official said: "The cabinet has approved the drafting of thousands of reserve soldiers. These include combat units and home front units."

Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, said before entering the weekly cabinet meeting that the operation "won't be short''.

"The IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) will expand and deepen its operations in Gaza as much as necessary,'' he said. "We need to know that it won't be short and it won't be easy, and we must stand with determination.''

After the cabinet meeting, Israeli ministers and spokesmen were careful to spell out the relatively modest aim of the military assault was not, as had been earlier hinted, the destruction of Hamas.

"Israel will continue until we have a new security environment in the south, when the population there will no longer live in terror and in fear of constant rocket barrages,'' Mark Regev, a senior Israeli government spokesman, said.

The carefully worded message was a deliberate attempt to avoid the mistakes of the 2006 war in Lebanon, when Israel set itself impossibly ambitious targets at the outset of the fighting.

A statement issued on behalf of the UN Security Council called for "an immediate halt to all violence".

Diplomats said a compromise statement initially put forward by Russia was watered down at the urging of the US. The final text approved by consensus mentioned neither Israel nor the Islamist movement Hamas by name.

Border

The council also called for the opening of border crossings into Gaza "to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs" and ensure a continuous supply of food and fuel, as well as medical treatment.

The numbers of casualties on Saturday made it the single deadliest day in the Gaza Strip since Israel's occupation of the territory in 1967.

Several targets were then attacked on Saturday night by Israeli warplanes, including a mosque near Shifa Hospital in Gaza City which Israel claimed was being used for "terrorist activities''.

Palestinian sources later reported the Israeli air force had bombed the main studio building of Al Aqsa TV, a station that is used by Hamas.

After the first wave of attacks on Saturday, which hit sites that Israel claimed were connected to Hamas, yesterday's bombing was more piecemeal.

Israeli jets struck targets, including the area around Rafah where smuggler tunnels into neighbouring Egypt have been dug.

Tunnels

Closure of those tunnels would effectively cut off the Gaza Strip and allow Israel greater control over what does and does not reach the enclave.

Late last night, Israel launched fresh airstrikes, bombing the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip, a significant Hamas cultural symbol.

The UN Security Council met for four hours in emergency session before issuing a statement calling for a ceasefire to be restored between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamist movement that governs the Gaza Strip.

Israel regularly blocks the delivery of supplies to Gaza as part of its strategy of trying to put pressure on the Hamas authorities, although yesterday, as the air assault continued, Israel allowed through deliveries.

Demonstrators took to the streets across the Arab world in noisy protests against Israel's bombardment.

In the West Bank, one Palestinian demonstrator was killed in clashes with police.

A demonstration in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul was also marred by bloodshed, when a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up among the crowd, killing one person and wounding 16, police said.

In Egypt, the largest protest saw about 8,000 people demonstrate on the streets of the southern city of Assiut.

While in Syria, Israeli and American flags were burned as thousands of people demonstrated. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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