Israel continues its devastating assault on the Gaza Strip despite a UN Security Council resolution demanding a ceasefire. Overnight, Israel launched more than fifty strikes, killing at least twelve Palestinians. Seven people were killed in a bombing in northern Gaza, including an infant. At least twenty-four Palestinians were killed on Thursday, including three elderly people fleeing their home. Palestinian militants responded with around six rockets into southern Israel earlier today, causing one injury. At least 60 percent of Gaza’s 1.4 million people have no electricity, and many are without clean water. Gaza’s fragile sewage system also risks collapse, stoking fears of a worsening health crisis.
Overall, the Palestinian death toll stands at at least 778, including more than 200 children. At least 3,250 Palestinians have been injured. Thirteen Israelis have died over the same period, four by friendly fire. The Security Council voted fourteen-to-nothing for the ceasefire, with the US abstaining. The measure calls “for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki: “Israel, the occupying power, must immediately implement this resolution. Aggression must cease so that we all may have the opportunity to work to heal the wounds of our people and to rebuild what the brutal Israeli war machine has destroyed in Gaza.”
The measure came hours after the UN shut down major aid operations in Gaza after Israel attacked one of its aid convoys. Israeli snipers killed two Palestinian aid workers who were reportedly trying to retrieve the body of a colleague who had been killed in a previous Israeli attack. The killings reportedly came during the three-hour pause to the bombing agreed to by Israel to allow humanitarian relief.
UN relief spokesperson Christopher Gunness: “I can confirm that UNRWA has suspended its operations in Gaza because of staff security. We’ve had a shooting of a driver in a convoy clearly marked as a UN vehicle. There have been a number of attacks in which UN facilities have been hit with direct hits and others. We’ve had no choice but to suspend our operations until we can get guarantees of the security of our staff. We’ve lost — our staff have been killed. We’ve had no other choice.”
The UN says it’s lost all confidence in Israeli pledges. Israel has attacked several UN and medical installations this week, including a UN school where forty-six civilians were killed.
According to the World Health Organization, twenty-one Palestinian medical workers have been killed and another thirty injured in the Israeli assault on Gaza. The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, said it would scale back aid operations for at least one day after one of its convoys also came under Israeli fire.
The Red Cross made the announcement as it accused Israel of blocking access to a bombing site where several emaciated children were found next to their dead mothers. Overall, dozens of dead civilians were found in a one-block span of the neighborhood of Zeitoun. Red Cross mission chief Katrina Ritz described the bombing’s aftermath.
Katrina Ritz: “I think one of the big shocks was that these people were very weak. They were children, children being next to their dead mother. There were no assistance given to these people. There were around eighteen wounded which have not had medical aid, and very, very weak people. The children could hardly stand. There was no water for them. There was no food. And they were with all the dead bodies.”
In a report Thursday, the UN said thirty of the victims killed in the Zeitoun attack had been taking shelter in a home on orders from the Israeli military. More than 100 Palestinians had been evacuated there and told to stay indoors. Palestinian paramedic Attia Barami was among the first to reach the victims.
Attia Barami: “The Red Cross got permission for us for three ambulances to enter the northern area of Gaza. We found bodies that the tanks drove over. The medics checked the bodies and found damage at the cellular level, and bodies. This baby girl, age five months, she has been dead for more than two days. The dogs ate parts of the baby’s body. This baby was burned because you can see her face and body are dark and charred.”
Most of the dead were members of the same extended family, the Samounis. The death toll was initially lower but rose as more bodies were pulled from the rubble.
The Israeli attack is under increasing international criticism. On Thursday, a high-ranking Vatican official, Cardinal Renato Martino, compared Gaza to “a concentration camp.” Speaking to an Italian daily, Martino said, “Look at the conditions in Gaza. More and more, it resembles a big concentration camp.”
Meanwhile, former President Jimmy Carter has denounced the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. Writing in the Washington Post, Carter criticizes Israel for breaking the six-month ceasefire by launching its November 4th attack that killed seven Hamas militants. He also faults Israel for failing to uphold its commitment to ease the humanitarian blockade of Gaza.
Protests, meanwhile, continue worldwide. On Thursday, more than 40,000 people demonstrated in Oslo, Norway, denouncing the attack on Gaza. According to Al Jazeera, other rallies were held in Venezuela, Tehran, Khartoum and Sarajevo. In Canada, around thirty activists occupied the Israeli consulate in Montreal. The action came one day after a group of Jewish Canadian women occupied the Israeli consulate in Toronto. In New York, hundreds gathered on Wednesday to respond to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s open support for the Israeli attack. Bloomberg visited Israel last week and gave interviews backing the assault on Gaza. New York City Council Member Charles Barron said Bloomberg doesn’t speak for all New Yorkers.
New York City Council Member Charles Barron: “My message to Bloomberg is shame on you. How dare you speak for all New Yorkers and ignore the fact that 560 people died, and many of them innocent women and children? How dare you go to Israel and not talk to the Palestinian people? How dare you act like you speak for all New Yorkers? Well, you don’t.”
Protests also continue in Israel. Israeli peace activists Uri Avnery and David Wilner were among those demonstrating in Tel Aviv.
Uri Avnery: “We are here to protest against the war, which we consider inhuman, immoral, totally unjustified and unnecessary. We believe that if we had agreed to talk with Hamas, this problem would have been laid aside a long
David Wilner: “A massacre and violence is not the way to bring peace to both nations, the Israeli and the Palestinian nations.”
As the United Nations and the Red Cross condemned the Israeli assault on Gaza, the US Senate approved a measure overwhelmingly supporting the attack. The non-binding measure passed by unanimous voice vote. Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both spoke in favor of the Israeli invasion. Reid said, “When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the state of Israel, by reaffirming Israel’s inalienable right to defend against attacks from Gaza, as well as our support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” The House is expected to pass a similar measure today.
Congress member Dennis Kucinich has been one of the few lawmakers to speak out against the US-backed attack on Gaza. Kucinich has asked the State Department to probe whether Israel’s use of US-supplied weaponry violates the 1976 Arms Export Control Act.
The Guardian of London is reporting, meanwhile, the incoming Obama administration is planning on reversing the Bush administration’s refusal to negotiate with Hamas. The Guardian says President-elect Obama is leaning towards authorizing low-level contacts with Hamas that could eventually turn into more serious talks. Hamas has said it would support a settlement with Israel based on a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. The Bush administration has refused to recognize Hamas despite its 2006 victory in Palestinian elections.
In other news, Obama has appointed former CIA official John Brennan as his top aide on counterterrorism. Brennan had been Obama’s top candidate to head the Central Intelligence Agency but was forced to withdraw from consideration amid protests. Brennan has publicly supported the CIA’s policies of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” and extraordinary rendition. Brennan’s new position doesn’t require congressional approval.
The Obama transition team, meanwhile, is reportedly working feverishly to overhaul the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. The Washington Post reports Obama aides are focusing on setting clear restrictions on the condition for government aid. The Treasury Department will need congressional approval for the second $350 billion installment of bailout money. Obama spoke about the economy on Thursday.
President-elect Obama: “We should have an open and honest discussion about this recovery plan in the days ahead, but I urge Congress to move as quickly as possible on behalf of the American people. For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs, more families will lose their savings, more dreams will be deferred and denied, and our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.”
A congressional oversight report expected for release today criticizes the Treasury Department’s handling of the bailout, faulting what it calls “significant gaps in Treasury’s monitoring of the use of taxpayer money.”
At Guantanamo Bay, ten percent of prisoners are now being reportedly forced-fed. The Pentagon says twenty-five of the 250 prisoners are being fed through tubes up their noses.
And an update to yesterday’s headline on a protest Wednesday in Oakland. At least 105 people were arrested demonstrating against the killing of an unarmed transit passenger by a Bay Area police officer. The officer, Johannes Mehserle, resigned earlier Wednesday before he was to meet with investigators. Cell phone videos show Mehserle pulling out a gun and shooting twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant in the back while he was lying face down on the ground on a subway platform. Grant worked as a butcher at an Oakland grocery store and was the father of a four-year-old daughter.