Thursday, November 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Netanyahu warns of prolonged Gaza war

Used artillery shells litter the ground near Kafar Azza, Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border. Fighting between Israelis and Hamas extremists is continuing despite an international push for a truce.
Used artillery shells litter the ground near Kafar Azza, Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border. Fighting between Israelis and Hamas extremists is continuing despite an international push for a truce. ANDREW BURTON / Getty Images
Used artillery shells litter the ground near Kafar Azza, Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border. Fighting between Israelis and Hamas extremists is continuing despite an international push for a truce. Gallery: Netanyahu warns of prolonged Gaza war
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Signaling an escalation of Israel's Gaza operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis on Monday to be ready for a "prolonged" war, and the military warned Palestinians in three neighborhoods to leave their homes and head immediately for Gaza City.

The warnings came on a day of heavy Hamas-Israeli fighting in which nine children were killed by a strike on a Gaza park where they were playing - a tragedy that each side blamed on the other.

Israeli tanks also resumed heavy shelling in border areas of Gaza, killing five people and wounding 50 in Jabaliya, which was among the areas warned to evacuate, the Red Crescent said.

The Israeli military said nine soldiers were killed in attacks Monday.

Later in the day, Israeli forces fired a large number of flares over Gaza City, turning the night sky a bright orange.

The latest bloodshed came despite mounting international calls for a cease-fire and followed failed attempts by both sides to agree to even a lull in fighting of several hours for the start of the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan.

"We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign," Netanyahu said, standing beside his defense minister and chief of staff. "We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers, and children."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri struck a defiant tone in response to Netanyahu's warnings.

"His threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people, and the occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children," he said.

Israel said it sent text messages and phoned residents of northern Gaza - including Shijaiyah, the site of one of the war's bloodiest battles last week - urging them to flee their homes and move toward Gaza City.

"What is coming will be worse," the phone messages warned.

The United Nations on Monday called for an "immediate" cease-fire in the fighting, and on Sunday, President Obama called Netanyahu to push for an immediate end to the conflict.

But Israel's and Hamas' terms for ending the fighting remain far apart. Hamas has conditioned a halt to the fighting on an easing of a crippling blockade on the territory imposed by Egypt and Israel.

Israel, meanwhile, wants to see the Gaza Strip demilitarized and Hamas stripped of its rocket-firing abilities.

Israel says it launched its war July 8 to halt incessant rocket fire from Gaza. It later broadened the assault into a ground offensive meant to tackle Hamas' network of tunnels, which Israel sees as a major threat.

Despite Israel's attempts to destroy the tunnels, the Israeli military said Monday that militants succeeded to enter Israel through a tunnel leading from Gaza, a sign that the threat of attacks from tunnels has not been eradicated. The military said troops killed one militant.

Also Monday, the Israeli military said that a mortar attack on southern Israel killed four soldiers. Five other soldiers were also killed Monday, but the details of their deaths were not immediately released.

The Gaza park strike, which killed 10 people in all, happened as children played on a swing in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, said Ayman Sahabani, head of the emergency room at nearby Shifa Hospital. Sahabani said that the nine children killed were under the age of 12 and that 46 people were wounded.

"The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit," said Nidal Aljerbi, a witness.

The strike occurred a few minutes after an outpatient clinic at Gaza's main hospital, Shifa, was hit, leaving several people wounded. Camera crews were prevented from filming the area of impact at Shifa.

Gaza's police operations room, civil defense, and Sahabani blamed the attacks on Israeli air strikes.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said the explosion was caused when a rocket launched by Gaza militants misfired and landed in the park. Palestinian police and civil defense said an Israeli missile hit as children were playing on a swing set.

"This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short and hit the Shifa Hospital and the Beach [Shati] camp," he said, adding that the military had identified 200 "failed launchings."

Gaza's Interior Ministry spokesman, Eyad al-Bozum, said he believed that shrapnel found in bodies and in the wounded was evidence of Israel's role in the incident.

"The occupation claims that Palestinian rockets hit the hospital and the park," he said. "This is an attempt to cover their ugly crime against children and civilians, and because of their fear of scandal and international legal prosecution."

Jabaliya resident Sufian Abed Rabo said his family of 17 has taken refuge underneath the stairway in the building of their home, which they rebuilt after it sustained damage during the 2009 war in Gaza.

"God help us. We have nothing to do but pray," Rabo said. "Maybe in the morning [we will evacuate], if we are still alive."

More than 170,000 people have already fled the fighting, with many seeking shelter in U.N. facilities. In previous battles, entire neighborhoods in Gaza have been flattened and turned to rubble.

Karin Laub and Tia Goldenberg Associated Press
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