30 soldiers hurt in op, 2 seriously; report: army bisects Gazahttp://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1052336.html
By Amos Harel, Yoav Stern and Yanir Yagana, Haaretz Correspondents, and News Agencies
Tags: Hamas, Gaza, Israel news
Israeli ground troops clashed Sunday morning with Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip, and reportedly bisected the coastal area. Early Sunday, thirty Israel Defense Forces soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, in clashes with militants.
Palestinian medics reported that shells fired by IDF troops exploded in the center of Gaza City's main shopping area, leaving five dead and dozens wounded. Doctors and hospital officials also said that 23 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's ground offensive since midnight, with 3 of those killed Hamas gunmen and the rest civilians.
Israel began its ground operation in the Gaza Strip on Saturday night following a week of aerial attacks aimed at halting rocket fire on its southern communities. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that Israel could not allow residents of southern Israel to be continuously targeted and was left with no choice but to act.
Palestinian sources said that Israeli troops had clashed with Gaza gunmen on the outskirts of Gaza City.
ANALYSIS / Israel's aim in Gaza is to break Hamas resistancehttp://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1052360.html
By Amos Harel & Avi Issacharoff
Tags: Israel, Hamas, Israel News
On Saturday night, one week after the start of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, the ground operation began. The Israel Defense Forces started deploying combat units to surround Hamas' main power base. The goal is not to chase after and destroy every last rocket launcher, but rather to break the Hamas' resistance and force it to agree to a long-term cease-fire whose terms are more reasonable from Israel's perspective.
Rocket fire into Israel continued apace with the Gaza offensive, but IDF officials believe this time progress can be made at the front before the extent of the casualties in the south begins to resemble that of the Second Lebanon War. At the same time, there is a growing risk that Hezbollah or its satellites will try to open a second front along the Lebanese border.
The final decision on the ground operation came Friday afternoon in a meeting of the security cabinet with military leaders, in the IDF's underground situation room in Tel Aviv. Senior IDF officials reported that the Air Force was nearing the end of its "target bank" and that a ground operation must be launched immediately if the overall operational goals were to be met.
The army believes the incursion into Gaza will do significant damage to Hamas' standing army and at the same time give Hamas leaders a palpable sense that their rule is in danger. The ground invasion will also accelerate the diplomatic stopwatch. A delegation from the European Union "troika" (Germany, France, Great Britain) will reach Gaza on Sunday, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected on Monday. Translated into military terminology that means the IDF has less than a week to make genuine progress in Gaza.
In the past two days the army chief of staff and the head of Southern Command visited troops massing along the Gaza border and approved the final plans. The message from the IDF commanders is: "We will meet our goals. There will be casualties as a result of the thrust into Gaza but they will not stop any part of the operation." This attitude is different from that evinced during the Second Lebanon War, when the army withdrew on more than one occasion in response to casualties. One battalion commander told his company commander on Saturday that it's possible that not everyone will return to meet again in a few days' time.
This knowledge has not affected the army's motivation and readiness, however. Hamas is not Hezbollah and the IDF circa January 2009 is not the IDF of 2006. It is sharper, more determined and better trained. The intelligence is infinitely better this time. The offensive was prepared over a long period of time. It is very aggressive, with massive air and artillery fire preceding the ground and artillery forces.
The army is worried mainly about the explosive charges buried by Hamas underneath roads, about attempts to boobytrap homes and to abduct soldiers. In comparison to Lebanon, the threat of antitank fire is less troubling. IDF headquarters believes the diplomatic developments will bring a rapid end to the military operation, but field commanders are also prepared for a stay of several weeks, including methodical arrest campaigns and searches for weapons caches.
On Saturday night a large number of reserve units were called up, using emergency orders. Starting Sunday they will undergo training to prepare for possible mobilization, in keeping with the security cabinet's directives to the IDF to prepare for the next stages of the conflict. Senior officers hope these preparations will prove to be unnecessary.
How will Hamas respond? It has built a band of fortifications about three kilometers from the border, but later on it will probably want to put its people into populated areas on the assumption that the IDF will seek to avoid warfare in built-up areas. Hamas is likely to use suicide attackers, booby-trapped tunnels and sniper fire against IDF troops. More than 100 militants who trained in camps in Iran for 45 days will lead the fighting against the IDF. Hamas may also use children as "human shields" for weapons caches inside mosques.
The recent drop in the number of rockets being fired at Israel points to a decline in the number of rocket launchers, possible due to IAF strikes on the smuggling tunnels in Rafah. It is also possible that Hamas is focusing more on defensive actions than offensive ones.
Hamas' biggest problem now is that for it the ground operation is a battle for the survival of its governmental control in the Strip. The organization's leaders have raised Gazans' expectations regarding the IDF invasion. In the past several days they have promised that "Gaza's children will collect body parts of the Zionist soldiers." Khaled Meshal spoke of "a few more Gilad Shalits," if the IDF dares to launch a ground operation. It can be assumed that the fighting spirit of the Hamas militants will be greater than the zero motivation displayed by their counterparts from Fatah and the Palestinian Authority security forces during Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002. Still, the balance of forces is clear. If Hamas does not cause serious casualties among the Israeli forces, the operation will be considered a failure for the organization in the Arab world.
The true picture in Gaza should become clearer Sunday, once some of the fog imposed by the IDF censor clears.
IDF bombs mosque during Gaza operation, killing 13 worshippers
By News Agencies
Tags: Israel, Hamas, Israel News
As Israel's military operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip entered its ninth day, Palestinians were reeling from an attack on what the Israel Defense Forces claims was a mosque which was being used as a weapons cache.
The IDF raided the mosque in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, killing 13 people and wounding 33, according to a Palestinian health official.
One of the wounded worshippers, Salah Mustafa, told Al-Jazeera TV from a hospital that the mosque was packed.
"It was unbelievably awful," he said, struggling to catch his breath.
It was not immediately clear why the mosque was hit, but Israel has hit other mosques in its air campaign and said they were used for storing weapons.
On the third day of the operation early Monday morning, the IAF obliterated symbols of Hamas power, bombing the Islamic University.
Thousands protested Friday against Israel's air offensive targeting Hamas at demonstrations in the Middle East and several continents.
Similar protests have been held daily across the Middle East since Israel launched the bombing campaign last Saturday. But these gatherings held mostly after Friday prayers were larger - mainly because Friday prayers are a traditional gathering opportunity for Muslims - and seemed to be more far-reaching in the number of countries where protests occurred.
The Israeli offensive has killed more than 400 Palestinians and sparked outrage among the Arab public. Israel says its offensive is aimed at silencing Hamas rockets.
In Tehran, a crowd of about 6,000 stretching for a half-mile (kilometer) marched from prayers at Tehran University to Palestine Square, chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" and burning Israeli flags.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned Israel that entering Gaza "by land will be the biggest mistake of the Zionist regime."
Iran is a major backer of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, giving it millions of dollars. The U.S. and Israel accuse Iran of giving weapons and rockets to Hamas, though Tehran denies arming Hamas.
In Egypt, authorities clamped down hard to prevent protests Friday. Hundreds of riot police surrounded Cairo's main Al-Azhar Mosque, where a rally had been called, and scuffled with would-be protesters, keeping most from approaching.
Police also arrested 40 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood that called for protests.
More than 3,000 people marched in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish.
Many governments in the Arab world such as Egypt have been wary about protests at home over Israel's Gaza assault lest the protests spiral out of control.
In Jordan, police fired volleys of tear gas and scuffled with protesters who tried to reach the Israeli Embassy in Amman. A few of the protesters threw stones at police, but the security forces dispersed the group, arresting several.
About 30,000 Jordanians gathered at a stadium in Amman shouting their support for Gaza and calling for the abolition of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty signed in 1994.
More than 10,000 Muslims marched through Indonesia's capital Jakarta to protest the ongoing bombing raids in Gaza, aiming fake missiles labeled "Target: Tel Aviv, Israel" at the U.S. Embassy.
Protests were also held after Friday prayers in other cities in the world's most populous Muslim country, in what was the largest turnout since Israel began the operation.
In the Afghan capital of Kabul, about 3,000 people gathered outside a prominent mosque, according to police estimates. Men in the crowd threw stones and shoes at an effigy of President George W. Bush.
Dozens of demonstrators gathered in the Philippines capital Manila, carrying placards saying Israel is a "butcher of children."
In Turkey, Israel's closest ally in the region, some 5,000 people denounced the Israeli raids outside a mosque in Istanbul, burning Israeli and U.S. flags and reciting funeral prayers for the victims.
In Syria, some 2,000 marched in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, carrying Palestinian flags and chanting "jihad will unite us."
Syrian President Bashar Assad talked with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday and called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution forcing Israel to immediately halt its Gaza offensive, Syria's official news agency SANA reported.
In Sudan, thousands marched in downtown Khartoum, urging Muslims to jihad and denouncing Israel and America.
Protests erupted as well in the Palestinian territories.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, thousands demonstrated in solidarity with Gazans, calling for Palestinian unity and accusing Arab leaders of silence over Israel's bombardment.
There were also protests in the United States. Thousands gathered in Washington to express outrage over Israel's attacks, marching from the Israeli embassy Friday to the Egyptian embassy to criticize Egypt's handling of the attacks.
In Los Angeles, about 350 protesters and counterprotesters demonstrated. The pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside the Israeli Consulate, while supporters of Israel lined the opposite side of the street. No incidents were immediately reported.
Ex-Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox and other celebrities, including activist Bianca Jagger, comedian Alexei Sayle and former London mayor Ken Livingstone, held a news conference in London demanding Israel halt the onslaught.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil almost 200 people led by local Muslim leaders gathered outside the Sao Paulo Art Museum to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Several demonstrators carried Palestinian flags, and banners reading "End the Genocide in Gaza."
In Bern, Switzerland, hundreds of people marched, calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and demanding the international community impose sanctions against Israel.
Russian authorities detained about 37 people after a small protest outside the Israeli Embassy in Moscow demanding an end to attacks on the Gaza Strip.
Hundreds of Muslims held a rally at the main mosque in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, hoisting banners that said "Palestinian Blood Is Human Blood" and shouting for Kenya to sever ties with Israel.
Meanwhile, Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the leader of al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, has issued a message urging Muslims to attack Jews everywhere, according to the SITE Intelligence, a group which monitors extremist Web sites.
The message was issued on jihadist forums on Thursday, SITE said.
Israel okays call-up of tens of thousands of IDF reservists
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, and Reuters
Israel's government has approved the call-up of tens of thousands of reservist soldiers, it was annnounced Saturday, almost simultaneously with the launch of a Gaza ground incursion aimed at halting rocket fire on Israel's southern communities.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said in a statement that, in accordance with a secret cabinet discussion Friday, the government ordered the armed forces "to draft the necessary reservists, on a scale of tens of thousands of troops."
The Gaza ground operation launched Saturday had actually been approved last week, but Olmert promised his ministers that when the time came to begin the offensive, it would first be brought for fresh approval by the security cabinet. On Thursday night, Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held a meeting that lasted until 4 A.M., during which it was decided that that time had come.
On Friday afternoon, at around 2 P.M., the security cabinet convened at Olmert's office at the Defense Ministry building in Tel Aviv. The meeting was held in utmost secrecy, and the military censor even banned reports that the discussion had taken place.
As the cabinet debate dragged on, the two ministers from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said that they would stay at the meeting despite the imminent onset of the Sabbath, as the discussion constituted "pikuah nefesh" (the saving of human life which allows Jews to break religious laws). Olmert told the two to go home, but to each leave a note with their votes on the issue of a ground operation.
In the voting, 10 ministers were in favor of the operation, while two - Haim Ramon of Kadima and Eli Yishai of Shas - abstained.