PMC, Agencies –(16/01/2008): Four days after a visit by the US President George W. Bush, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) killed twenty Palestinians in a pre-dawn one mile incursion into eastern Gaza city on Tuesday, involving troops, tanks and helicopters, causing the highest one-day Palestinian death toll since November 2006, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned as a “massacre” that doesn’t show peace intentions as Hamas pledged retaliation “in the language they (the Israelis) understand.”
Al Jazeera.net correspondent in Jerusalem, said: “Apache helicopter gunships, armoured bulldozers, tanks and ground troops were all involved in this incursion,” which ended on Tuesday afternoon.
A 65-year-old man was among the victims and an 8-year-old boy was seriously wounded.
Muawiya Hasanein, a senior Health Ministry official in Gaza, said that 14 fighters who stood up to the incursion, including Husam, 21, the son of Mahmoud al-Zahhar, a Hamas senior leader and former foreign minister in the national unity government of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and five civilians were killed in the operation, with 55 people wounded. An Israeli airstrike later in the day killed another person.
A procession of bodies borne on stretchers and wrapped in the green flags of Hamas left a Gaza mosque to be buried. Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, and the other top military and political leaders of the Islamic movement attended the funerals.
Hamas decreed three days of mourning, ordered flags on all government buildings to be lowered to half staff and called for a general strike in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
At the morgue at Shifa Hospital, al-Zahhar held his lifeless son’s head in his hands and closed his eyes, then kissed him three times on the forehead and recited a verse from the Muslim holy book, the Quran.
Hamas, he vowed, “will respond in the appropriate way. We will defend ourselves by all means.” Later he said: “We’ll respond in the language they (Israelis) understand.”
Khaled al-Zahhar, another of Zahhar’s sons, was killed in 2003 in an Israeli air raid on the family’s house in a failed assassination attempt of his father’s life.
Separately in the West Bank the IOF killed leading Palestinian anti-occupation activist Walid al-Obeidi in the town of Qabatiya south of Jenin city in the northern West Bank early Wednesday.
Since the Annapolis peace conference on November 27, at least 115 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza, according to an AFP count. The Israeli Security Agency (ISA) reported recently that the IOF killed (1000) Palestinians in Gaza Strip in 2007.
Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, told reporters Tuesday in Ramallah the invasion was “a massacre, a slaughter against the Palestinian people. Our people cannot keep silent over these massacres.These massacres cannot bring peace.”
Earlier the Palestinian presidency has strongly condemned the Israeli massacres in the Gaza Strip as “criminal acts” harming the peace process, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said, adding that the Israeli government had to “stop placing hurdles” in the way of negotiations with the Palestinians.
PNA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad said in a government statement Tuesday that Israel’s “murderous actions” was “a criminal act against the Palestinian people” and “a cruel aggression” that sowed more hatred and hostility. He offered his condolences to Hamas leader al-Zahhar on the death of his son.
In a press conference that followed the government meeting in Ramallah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Information, Riyad Al Malki, said that his government will not stand still in front of those Israeli crimes. He assured that his government will call on the US, the EU and the UN to put international pressure on Israel to stop its violent attack against the Palestinians of Gaza.
Al Malki also demanded an international force to enter Gaza Strip to protect Palestinians from the Israeli army attacks.
Qurei: Negotiations Absurd…
Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei severely criticized the “the massacres committed by the Israeli occupation forces this morning in Gaza,” he said in a written statement sent to reporters Tuesday.
“These massacres, that go hand in hand with the continuation of the siege on our brave people in Gaza, and daily incursions to the cities of the West Bank and Gaza, with the continuation of the settlement activity, complicate and put obstacles ahead of the talks.”
“These massacres which coincides with an ongoing siege imposed on our people in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the daily incursions are for sure obstructing the negotiations,” said Qurei, adding the talks between Israel and the Palestinians would be absurd “if nothing is done to stop the Israeli actions against our people.”
“We appeal to the Americans and the other Quartet members to assume their responsibilities and force Israel to stop its daily incursions and actions against the Palestinians,” Qurei said.
Sa’di al-Krunz, a member of the PNA negotiating team, said Israel was determined to destroy the peace process in the aftermath of the Annapolis conference and Bush’s recent tour. He, too, SAID Israel IS perpetrating “daily atrocities” against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The European Union urged self restraint Tuesday.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said: “I call on all concerned to exercise restraint and to stop the cycle of violence which will only feed new atrocities and lead to further suffering by the people in the region.”
Israel: A ‘Routine’ Operation
A barrage of 28 rockets and mortars hit at southern Israel in Sderot and other communities neighboring Gaza Strip on Tuesday, injuring at least five people. A Palestinian sniper Tuesday killed a 20-year-old Jewish volunteer from Ecuador as he worked in a potato field of a kibbutz (agricultural commune) bordering the Strip.
Early Wednesday at least twenty five Kassam rockets were fired at the western Negev, 11 of them at Ashkelon and 12 at Sderot, The Jerusalem Post reported. A longer-range, Russian-made Grad rocket also struck a residential neighborhood in the southern Israeli port city of Ashkelon.
Israeli Capt. Noa Meir, spokeswoman for the IOF, raid Tuesday the incursion was a “routine pinpoint operation,” adding that three airstrikes occurred during the operation, each targeting a group of armed Palestinian anti-occupation activists.