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2014-07-08

Report from Gaza: Israel Launches New Offensive on Besieged Palestinian Territory in Crisis

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Violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories is escalating as Israel bombs the Gaza Strip and threatens a new full-scale assault. On Monday, the Israeli military announced "Operation Protective Edge," which it says aims to stop Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel. At least nine Palestinians were wounded in Israeli strikes on more than 50 targets in Gaza overnight. Six Hamas members were killed in Israeli strikes on Sunday, the deadliest by Israel since an eight-day assault in late 2012. Palestinian militants have fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel since the weekend, causing no casualties. To prepare for a potential attack, Israel has called up more than 1,500 troops to fortify a contingent already massed along the Gaza border. Hamas says the latest bombings "exceed all red lines" and has vowed to respond with broader rocket fire. If Israel invades Gaza, it would be the third major assault on the coastal territory in six years. The first invasion in 2008 left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians. We go to Gaza to speak with Mohammed Omer, an award-winning Palestinian journalist who has been covering the Israeli offensive.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: Violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories is escalating as Israel bombs the Gaza Strip and threatens a new full-scale assault. On Monday, the Israeli military announced Operation Protective Edge, which it says aims to stop Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel. At least nine Palestinians were wounded in Israeli strikes on over 50 targets in Gaza overnight. Six Hamas members were killed in Israeli strikes on Sunday, the deadliest by Israel since an eight-day assault in late 2012. Palestinian militants have fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel since the weekend, causing no casualties. To prepare for a potential attack, Israel has called up over 1,500 troops to fortify a contingent already massed on the Gaza border. Israeli military spokesperson Peter Lerner said Israel is "prepared for an escalation."

LT. COL. PETER LERNER: Israel has witnessed a huge barrage of rockets being shot and launched from the Gaza Strip by Hamas. We are currently taking the necessary precautions to both be prepared for an escalation—we have forces on the ground. We have utilized all of our defensive mechanisms, Iron Dome and our air force, in order to protect and safeguard the civilians of the state of Israel. Today we have about a million Israelis that are under potential fire and have—and the alarms are ongoing even as we speak.

AARON MATÉ: Hamas says the bombings, quote, "exceed all red lines" and has vowed to respond with broader rocket fire. If Israel invades Gaza, it would be the third major assault on the coastal territory in six years. The first invasion in 2008 left over 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: The threat of an assault on Gaza comes amidst heavy unrest in the West Bank and in Arab towns inside Israel following the killings of a Palestinian teenager and three Israeli teenagers. The Israeli teens were abducted while hitchhiking near the West Bank settlement where they lived. Their bodies were found last week, after more than two weeks of Israeli raids throughout the West Bank that saw over 200 Palestinians arrested and over a dozen killed. A new report by the Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights says Israel conducted over 2,400 raids on Palestinian homes and businesses, seizing over $2.9 million worth of cash and property.

In an apparent act of revenge right after the teens’ bodies were found, a Palestinian teenager named Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted near his home in East Jerusalem. His dead body was found shortly after. The Palestinian Authority’s attorney general said an initial autopsy found burns on 90 percent of his body, suggesting he was burned alive.

MOHAMMED AL-A’WEWY: [translated] The results of the autopsy showed two things. The main cause of death is burning. There were fumes inside the airways. This shows for sure that he was burned while he was alive.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Israel said it had arrested six suspects and that three have already confessed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile called Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s father to express, quote, "shock over the despicable murder" and pledged the suspects’ "prosecution to the full extent of the law," unquote. While Netanyahu and other top Israeli leaders have condemned the killing, Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s death followed calls for vengeance from Israeli political leaders as well as in marches and on social media. Netanyahu posted a tweet saying, quote, "Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created."

For more, we go to Gaza for the latest, where we’re joined on the phone by Mohammed Omer, award-winning Palestinian journalist who has been covering the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Mohammed. Can you tell us where you are and what you see right now?

MOHAMMED OMER: I’m in Gaza City at the moment. The situation is quite deteriorating this morning. Just about less than half an hour ago, the Israeli F-16s bombed one of the microbuses that was driving nearby in the center of Gaza City, and about four people were killed. That brings the number of people to about seven who were killed and about 55 injured across the Gaza Strip since the very early morning, when Israel announced a new war on the Gaza Strip.

Rocket fires from the Gaza Strip continue, as Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue the firing of rockets all the past few days. I believe this is going to—this is going to escalate even further.

We just also received the news that the Israeli military bombed the house for Kaware family in Khan Younis, and there are about 13 people who were injured and two are killed just four minutes ago. There is a military buildup around the border of the Gaza Strip, and I would expect the situation to get even much worse. This followed the worst outbreak of violence along the Gaza frontier since the eight-day war in 2012, if you remember, when the Israeli occupation started the ground invasion and 16—launching fires on the Gaza Strip.

The situation is going to, I believe, going to be deteriorating further, as we hear that one of the targets in the microbus is one of the leaders of the Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing. And in this case, the Islamic movement of Hamas is likely to retaliate all the coming afternoon and tomorrow.

AARON MATÉ: And, Mohammed, what’s the mood amongst the residents that you’ve spoken to? Are people preparing for a ground invasion from Israel?

MOHAMMED OMER: Now, as far as the preparation, if you remember, in the previous wars, the people were going to the shops to stock food because then there is a war. But now we don’t see people rushing to the markets to buy food. And there is a reason for that. The banks are shut, so the salaries did not come through. The de facto government of Hamas, with 50,000 staff members, have not received their salaries, and that was a big, big issue for them. For the past few months, they haven’t been paid, and therefore they cannot go and shop. The same with the Palestinian Authority employees, who are still struggling to get payment. As I’ve said, the banks are shut this morning and yesterday. There are people who are trying to prepare themselves for what is coming worse. The streets are nearly empty on the roads. I expect there will be no cars driving in the Gaza Strip, since one of the targets was the microbus, which was driving on Salahuddin Road.

Let’s talk about the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. The Ministry of Health just announced that 70 percent of the ambulances are not going to be running anymore, and this is due to shortages of fuel. The case here is not because there is no fuel in Gaza, but because there is no cash to buy the fuel for the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health used to receive funding from the Palestinian Authority, which they have not received in the last two months—or, to be precise, since the agreement of reconciliation was signed. And there is a blame on the Palestinian Authority that the fuel is not coming into the Gaza Strip, therefore it’s going to make it very difficult for the ambulances to run. There is already shortages of medical supplies, which was announced by the Ministry of Health. And in addition to that, all Gaza hospitals just announced a state of emergency.

We hear right now, as I speak to you, F-16s are firing rockets on the different sides of the Gaza Strip. One of the last was Khan Younis to the east, and also to the south in parts of the Gaza Strip in Rafah. The ruins or what’s remaining of the Gaza International Airport have been targeted four times in the last two hours and two times in the very early morning. A number of buildings and agricultural lands have been targeted. The Ministry of Agriculture estimated the damages that are caused to the agriculture sector about $2.5 million U.S. And there’s the shortages of electricity, which always happen during Israeli attacks.

This is one of the worst attacks. It’s certainly similar to the one in November 2012. The only thing which is different from this is that now the military leadership in Hamas seems to lose control. There is no way to control them, as the Hamas political leadership are in hiding, basically, which means the authorities, even if Egypt is trying to intervene to install truce, it will take some time before they start to have real talks with those who are firing the rockets in the Gaza Strip.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed Omer, we want to thank you very much for being with us, award-winning Palestinian journalist, has been covering the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza from Gaza. When we come back, we’ll be joined by the son of an Israeli general, Miko Peled, a peace activist and writer, and we’ll be joined by the aunt of Tariq Abu Khdeir, who was beaten by Israeli soldiers to unconsciousness. His cousin, Mohammed, who he had been with just before Mohammed was kidnapped, he ultimately was burned to death in East Jerusalem. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

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