Friday, January 16, 2009
13:24 Mecca time, 10:24 GMT
News Middle East
Relative calm descends on Gaza
The Palestinian death toll reached 1,133 people on Friday morning [AFP]
Gazans have woken to a relatively quiet day as the Israeli assault on the
territory entered its 21st day.
Explosions were still heard, with Israeli officials saying they had struck 40
"targets" before dawn on Friday.
Since Israel started its bombardment of Gaza, 1,133 Palestinians have been
killed and more than 5,200 wounded, according to Gaza medics.
At least 355 children are among the dead.
Israel says 10 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed in the
same period, and an Israeli government spokesman indicated that the end of the
three-week-old offensive may be close.
The news agency AFP reported that at least 23 bodies were pulled from the
rubble in Gaza City and its environs on Friday morning.
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Al Jazeera's correspondent in the Gaza Strip, Ayman Mohyeldin, reported that
there could be further Israeli deployments to the former settlement of Netzarim
on Friday and that the military had pulled back from Tal al-Hawa.
Despite the relative lull, shelling continued and residents said they are still
living in fear, uncertain where Israel would strike next.
Hatem Shurrab, a Gaza resident living near Tar al-Hawa in Gaza City, which has
experienced some of the heaviest fighting, told Al Jazeera on Friday morning:
"I have my sister's family who came to our home to shelter. It's very difficult
to describe how we feel. It's very scary. The next target is not known. Who
will be killed next, we don't know.
"I can hear explosions going around and a couple of hundreds of metres away a
home was burnt close to the explosions.
"What is really painful for me is that I see every day people who are being
displaced. Mass internal displacement. Women running in the street trying to
find a place."
Meanwhile, clashes erupted between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops in
the southeastern Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City.
Diplomatic efforts appeared to intensify on Friday, a day after some of the
heaviest fighting so far.
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, is to meet Condoleezza Rice, the US
secretary of state, in Washington to discuss an American-Israeli agreement to
prevent weapons smuggling.
The scene of devastation after Israel bombed the family of Said Siam on
An Israeli envoy was also sent to Cairo, the Egyptian capital, to discuss
ceasefire terms offered by Hamas.
Israel's bombardment of three hospitals and a UN compound on Thursday prompted
international outrage as urgently needed food and medical supplies were
destroyed. The damage renewed calls for a ceasefire to be adhered to
Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(Unrwa), said "tens of millions of dollars worth of aid" had been destroyed in
the UN complex.
Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, justified the shelling by saying armed
Palestinians within the compound had fired at Israeli troops. The Unrwa denied
On Friday, the UN said it planned to resume operations in whatever capacity it
could following the attack.
A funeral is being held for Said Siam, the interior minister in Hamas's
government assassinated on Thursday along with one of his sons and a brother in
an air raid in Jabaliya refugee camp.
Mohyeldin said the killing highlighted Israel's intelligence capacity as well
as its military might.
"Hamas's leadership, aware that this type of attack was going to take place,
points to other leaders - much more high profile and much more influential -
such as Sheikh Ahmed Yasin and Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi, both killed by Israel in
2005," he said.
"That only gave the movement momentum and gave it a grassroots flourishment.
Some have already speculated that Hamas will only be strengthened by this."
Aside from the human cost, the Palestinian Statistics Bureau also reported on
Friday that the war has cost the Palestinian economy at least $1.4bn.
The bureau said 26,000 Gazans were unable to live in their homes and were being
housed in temporary shelter.
Much of Gaza's infrastructure lies in ruins. The statistics show that 20,000
residential buildings are damaged and 4,000 more destroyed.
Mohyeldin added: "The other question will be: How does the government try to
maintain any type of law and order with its entire security infrastructure
decimated? There are no police stations, no more civil defence or basic
security services in Gaza, so it is something of a lawless state."
Palestinian factions within Gaza claim they are still able to fire rockets,
despite Israel's stated aim that the Gaza assault would disarm them.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
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