- Sharif Abdel Kouddousindependent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent reporting from Gaza.
The Israeli military is pushing deeper into Gaza and threatening to “significantly widen” its ground offensive that began on Thursday night. Over the past 11 days, at least 264 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians. The death toll of children is approaching 50, including three teenagers killed today by Israeli tank shelling near the northern town of Beit Hanoun. Israel suffered its second fatality when one of its soldiers was killed in Gaza. Israeli media says the soldier was likely killed by friendly fire. Israel maintains the new ground offensive was needed to target tunnels used by Palestinian militants, but many civilian facilities have been hit, including a media office in Gaza City and the al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital, forcing the evacuation of patients. We speak to Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, whose new article for The Nation magazine is “Death and Destruction in Gaza as Israel Launches Ground Invasion.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Israeli military is pushing deeper into Gaza and threatening to “significantly widen” its ground offensive that began Thursday night. At least 25 Palestinians have died and 200 have been injured since thousands of troops stormed into Gaza backed by tanks, bulldozers and warplanes. Israel maintains the new ground offensive was needed to target tunnels used by Palestinian militants, but many civilian facilities have been hit, including a media office in Gaza City and the al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital, forcing the evacuation of patients.
AMY GOODMAN: Over the past 11 days, at least 264 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians. The death toll of children is approaching 50, including three teenagers killed today by Israeli tank shelling near the northern town of Beit Hanoun. Israeli suffered its second fatality when one of its soldiers was killed in Gaza. Israeli media says the soldier was likely killed by friendly fire.
The Israeli military said another 18,000 reserve soldiers would be mobilized to join more than 30,000 already called up. This marks Israel’s first major ground invasion of Gaza since Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and ’09, when some 1,400 Palestinians were killed. Earlier today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the ground invasion.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Since it is impossible to deal with the tunnels only by aerial means, our troops are also dealing with it on the ground. Here, as well, there are no guarantees for total success, but we will do the utmost to achieve the best result.
AMY GOODMAN: Mufeed al-Hasayna, the Palestinian minister of public works and housing, denounced Israeli strikes on the territory and the destruction of homes.
MUFEED AL-HASAYNA: [translated] Israel has deliberately destroyed the homes of civilian residents on top of the heads of children and the elderly in the ugliest of war crimes and amid a [peculiar] silence. More than 800 houses were destroyed completely, and 750 were partially destroyed. And there are more than 16,000 that sustained some damage. And with that, the occupation has turned Gaza and its streets into destruction.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He has just written a piece for The Nation headlined “Death and Destruction in Gaza as Israel Launches Ground Invasion.”
Describe what took place overnight, Sharif.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, it was really a terrifying night for the people of Gaza. After sunset, and just a few hours after the ceasefire that Israel had announced, the Israeli military began to pound Gaza from the land, from air, from the sea, with naval guns, with Apache helicopters, with F-16 strikes. They cut power lines, and Gaza went dark. They fired flares into the air to illuminate the battlefield. It was a constant barrage of bombardment that lasted throughout the night. And then we heard this announcement that they had approved this ground invasion and that they were coming in.
The shelling has continued throughout the day today. Just moments ago, there was a shelling that happened, strikes that took out a residence just next to us. But it appears—you know, people talk of this big ground invasion. From what I understand from people—speaking to people fleeing from the north and the east, that the Israeli military has not pushed in very far—by some accounts, just a few hundred meters into the border. But what they are doing is shelling very intensely from the north and from the east, and pushing people into the city center.
As you mentioned, more children have been killed. I believe the number now—I spoke to the Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson; he says 56 children have been killed. A total of 27—since this invasion was announced last night, 27 people have been killed.
House demolitions continue. I went to the eastern area of Shejaiya, which is just a couple of kilometers from the border with Israel, and a resident there had just had his house destroyed. He said he got a call on his cellphone by an Israeli military officer, who named him by name and said, “You have to leave your house now.” He told him that he had five families living with him, that he had 15 children in the house, and that he had no weapons. The officer said he had five minutes to leave. He woke up his family, ushered them out of the house. Then they got hit with a drone strike, followed by an F-16 missile which completely demolished the house. So the Gazans are living also in this Orwellian atmosphere where they get calls and the Israeli officers know their names on their cellphones and tell them to leave.
As you mentioned in the lead, there’s also been attacks on the media. I went this morning to the building that was struck on the eighth floor, which houses the Watania News Agency, a TV production company. It was hit at 7:00 a.m. this morning—there was no warning whatsoever—with a triple strike by an Apache helicopter. Thirty employees of the media production company, who have been sleeping and living there for 24 hours since the war began, doing coverage, were sleeping there. Miraculously, only one of them was injured. They said that this is a very known office and most of them are known, and they don’t understand why it was struck.
And as you mentioned also, there’s been targeting of medical facilities. Again, the Health Ministry spokesperson told me that a hospital in Beit Hanoun has been shelled just a couple of hours ago. It’s housing, he said, up to 400 children who are taking shelter there. And also, during the night, the al-Wafa Hospital, which is a rehabilitation center, came under attack. It had been previously shelled a couple of days earlier and has been shelled repeatedly since then several times. They said that after Iftar, the sunset meal that breaks the fast, they got a call from the Israeli military telling them to leave.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Sharif—
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The doctor said they couldn’t, that they had severely disabled people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sharif, if I could interrupt you for a second, we have—you mentioned the al-Wafa Hospital. We have Dr. Basman Alashi, the executive director of the hospital in Gaza, on the phone.