Israel set for ground attack as navy strikes Gaza coastline
(RTTNews) – Ignoring the French proposal for a temporary truce, Israel and Palestinian militants intensified attacks on each other as the Middle East war entered its sixth day on New Year.
The latest Israeli air strikes targeted Gaza’s parliament building and many more ministry buildings. A children’s hospital was reportedly damaged.
Equally aggressive was the Hamas response. Its members continued cross-border rocket-firing. Some of them landed as deep as Beersheba, about 40 kilometers inside Israel.
Rockets fired by the Hamas militants in the current fighting have flown farther and been more accurate than those used by them earlier, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.
Meanwhile, Israeli navy joined the onslaught, as naval ships attacked coastline positions of the territory’s Hamas leaders by firing artillery.
Thousands of Israeli ground troops were massed along the border in anticipation of a possible land invasion, although the move doesn’t have popular support in the Jewish nation.
So far, the campaign to crush rocket fire on southern Israel has been conducted largely from air.
Israel’s military spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovich said preparations for a ground operation were complete. “The infantry, the artillery, and other forces are ready. They’re around the Gaza Strip, waiting for any calls to go inside,” she said.
Wednesday, a united international stand for an immediate cease-fire appeal failed, as a late-night UN Security Council meeting could not vote on a draft resolution because of differences among some members.
Reports, quoting witnesses, said Israeli F-16 jet fighters and helicopter gunships flying over Gaza all night targeted the education ministry, the president’s office, the justice ministry, and the police headquarters.
Many buildings of Hamas-linked militants were destroyed in the refugee camps in central Gaza.
The head of Gaza’s emergency services said an attack on the house of a leader of the armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, killed three neighbors, including one woman.
The Libyan draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire to halt the Israeli-Palestinian violence was thwarted after U.S. and British ambassadors said it contained nothing about Palestinian attacks on Israel.
“The resolution circulated by Libya is not balanced, and, therefore, is not currently acceptable to the United States,” U.S. Ambassador to UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters after the emergency meeting.
Showing no signs of ease in tensions in the Middle East, care- taker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed Israel’s massive air blitz of the Gaza Strip would not end until Hamas militants gave up firing rockets into Israel.
The death toll in Israeli military operations launched Saturday aimed at destroying militant positions in Gaza is nearing 400, including 180 civilians. The number of the wounded has risen to nearly 2,000.
“We did not enter this operation in order to end it with the firing still continuing,” Olmert said at a meeting of his security Cabinet Wednesday, according to a senior government official.
The core group consisting of Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak, and foreign minister Tzipi Livni rejected a French proposal for a 48-hour truce in and around the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas broke this cease-fire,” Olmert said. “If the conditions ripen” and if there is a solution “that promises a better security … we will consider it, but we are not there yet,” he was quoted as saying.
It has been reported that Israel demanded international monitors as a pre-condition of any truce with the Gaza militants.
Olmert made this point in talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other world leaders, who are pressing for ending the violence.