FRANCE 24 with wires - Israeli planes pounded targets in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip for a third day Monday as Israeli tanks massed along the border with Gaza for a possible ground offensive.
Israel launched dozens of bombing raids overnight, according to Palestinian sources, including the attack on the Hamas-run Interior Ministry – the first air strike targeting a government building since the offensive on the Gaza Strip began on Saturday. Palestinian medical sources say more than 300 people have been killed in the raids on the densely populated coastal enclave.
According to a tally issued by the UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees, there were at least 51 civilian casualties among the 310 people killed in the Strip.
The Israeli strikes follow the end of a tenuous six-month ceasefire between Hamas and the Israeli government, with the Israelis complaining of continuing rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
On Monday, two Israeli civilians were killed by rocket fired from Gaza – bringing the Israeli death toll from rocket fire reported since Saturday to three.
Israeli ground troops lie in waiting (AFP)
Israeli officials have not ruled out a ground offensive into Gaza, which is home to more than 1.5 million Palestinians. In an interview with FRANCE 24 Monday, Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said the government was “still pondering over what will be our next step”.
Reporting from the Israeli-Gaza border, FRANCE 24’s Guillaume Auda said Israeli tanks were massing along the border Monday, a day after the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s cabinet approved a call-up of more than 6,000 reservists.
“This means two things,” said Auda. “One, that this operation is not nearing its end, and two, that Israel is prepared, if necessary, to enter the Gaza Strip with tanks and troops.”
Outcry over civilian casualties, including children
The airstrikes on Gaza, which entered their third day Monday, intensified Sunday after dark and kept up throughout the night, according to Radjaa Abou Dagga, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Gaza. “The Israeli air force has never left Gaza’s skies,” said Abou Dagga.
As dawn broke out over the Strip, Gaza City residents said a powerful explosion struck the Interior Ministry building.
This followed an air raid targeting a laboratory at the Islamic University, which had been evacuated days earlier, according to university authorities.
While Israel has maintained that it was solely targeting Hamas, Pazner acknowledged that there might be Palestinian civilian casualties in the latest attacks.
“Ninety-seven percent of the victims in Gaza are Hamas terrorists,” said Pazner. “Unfortunately, under war conditions, there will be civilian casualties. All our operations are strictly directed at Hamas military installations, we have nothing against the Palestinian people.”
Reporting from Gaza, Abou Dagga said the civilian casualties in the overpopulated enclave included children.
“Arabic TV networks are broadcasting images of civilian victims, especially a family who lived near a mosque in Jabaliya,” said Abou Dagga. According to local media reports, a mother and her four daughters were killed in the air raid in Jabaliya, a town in northern Gaza.
One Israeli was killed Monday, and seven were wounded by a Palestinian rocket in Ashkelon, in southern Israel, according to Israeli emergency services. This was the second Israeli casualty since the beginning of the offensive.
Hospitals crowded, staff overstretched
The civilian casualties have sparked widespread international condemnation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon repeating his call for an end to the hostilities.
Ban also urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the impoverished enclave, which is one of the world’s most densely populated regions. The Gaza Strip has been kept virtually sealed since Hamas took control in June 2007.
Amid widespread international concerns over the humanitarian situation in the Strip, Israel allowed around 80 trucks with medical and food aid to enter the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli military officials.
The trucks entered through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner told the AFP news service. But the Karni and Nahal Oz border crossings in northern Gaza remained closed despite earlier plans to open them, he said.
But in an interview with FRANCE 24 from Jerusalem, Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, a spokeswoman for the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) said the situation in Gaza remained grim.
“We are extremely concerned, especially about the situation in the hospitals,” said Bonefeld. “The staff is overstretched, there is not enough medicine and not enough medical equipment to be able to deal with the wounded.”
Bonefeld stressed the importance of allowing aid into the Strip. “We are underlying that it’s important that these crossings stay open in the coming days because the need for humanitarian assistance is growing by the hour.”
The aerial raids caused over 300 fatalities. (AFP).
But on Monday, Israel declared areas around the Gaza Strip a "closed military zone" citing the risk from retaliatory Palestinian rocket fire. Israeli analysts say the closure could be a precursor to a ground operation into the territory.
Some of the wounded have been transported from the Gaza Strip to Egyptian hospitals.