The long-expected Israeli response to Hamas’ rocket attacks from Gaza has begun. So far there has been no ground action, only airstrikes. At least 200 Palestinians are dead, and one Israeli has been killed by a Palestinian rocket fired after the fighting began.
According to Fox News:
Israeli warplanes retaliating for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip pounded dozens of security compounds across the Hamas-ruled territory in unprecedented waves of airstrikes Saturday, killing at least 205 people and wounding 400 others in the single bloodiest day of fighting in decades.
Most of those killed were security men, but civilians were also among the dead. Hamas said all of its security installations were hit and responded with several medium-range Grad rockets at Israel, reaching deeper than in the past. One Israeli was killed and at least four people were wounded in the rocket attacks. With so many wounded, the Palestinian death toll was likely to rise.
The air offensive followed weeks of intense Palestinian rocket and mortar fire on southern Israel, and Israeli leaders had issued increasingly tough warnings in recent days that they would not tolerate continued attacks.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would expand the operation if necessary. “There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting,” he told a news conference. He would not comment when asked if a ground offensive was planned.
But asked earlier if Hamas political leaders might be targeted next, military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said, “Any Hamas target is a target.”
The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion in Gaza, as black clouds of smoke rose above the territory, ruled by Hamas for the past 18 months. Some of the Israeli missiles struck in densely populated areas as children were leaving school, and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children. Most of those killed were security men, but civilians were among the dead.
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Streets were nearly empty in Sderot, the Israeli border town that has been pummeled hardest by rockets. A few cars carried panicked residents leaving town. Dozens of people congregated on a hilltop to watch the Israeli aerial attacks.
Israel declared a state of emergency in Israeli communities within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) range of Gaza, putting the area on a war footing. A siren went off in Kiryat Gat, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the border, but early reports that the town was hit by a rocket for the first time were incorrect.
Barak, the Israeli defense minister, said the coming period “won’t be easy” for southern Israel.
Protests against the campaign erupted in the Abbas-ruled West Bank and across the Arab world.
Several hundred angry Jordanians protested outside a U.N. complex in the capital Amman. “Hamas, go ahead. You are the cannon, we are the bullets,” they cried, some waving the signature green Hamas banners.
World reaction has been predictable, with only the United States laying the blame squarely on the actions of Hamas:
Spokesman For Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General
“The secretary general is deeply alarmed by today’s heavy violence and bloodshed in Gaza, and the continuation of violence in southern Israel.
“[He] appeals for an immediate halt to all violence [and reiterates] previous calls for humanitarian supplies to be allowed into Gaza to aid the distressed civilian population.”
Gordon Johndroe, White House Spokesman
“Hamas’ continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop. Hamas must end its terrorist activities if it wishes to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people.
“The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza.”
Spokesman For Javier Solana, EU Foreign Policy Chief
“We are very concerned at the events in Gaza. We call for an immediate ceasefire and urge everybody to exert maximum restraint.”
British Foreign Office Statement
“The only way to achieve lasting peace in Gaza is through peaceful means. Whilst we understand the Israeli government’s obligation to protect its population we urge maximum restraint to avoid further civilian casualties.
“We also call on militants in the Gaza Strip to immediately cease all rocket attacks on Israel.”
Russian Foreign Ministry Statement
“Moscow considers it necessary to stop large-scale military action against Gaza, which has already led to major casualties and suffering among the civilian Palestinian population.
“At the same time, we call on the Hamas leadership to stop shelling Israeli territory.”
Amr Moussa, Arab League Secretary General
“We are facing a continuing spectacle which has been carefully planned. So we have to expect that there will be many casualties. We face a major humanitarian catastrophe.”
Syrian Foreign Ministry Statement
“Syria is following with great anxiety the barbaric Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza… a horrific crime and terrorist act.
“Syria as president of the Arab League calls on Arab leaders to hold an emergency summit to assess the dangerous situation in Gaza.”
Hasan Qashqavi, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman
“Iran strongly condemns the Zionist regime’s wide-ranging attacks against the civilians in Gaza.
“The raids against innocent people are unforgiveable and unacceptable.”
And the most useless and mealy-mouthed reaction of all comes from — surprise! — the Vatican:
Rev Federico Lombardi, Vatican Spokesman
“Hamas is a prisoner to a logic of hate, Israel to a logic of faith in force as the best response to hate.
“One must continue to search for a different way out, even if that may seem impossible.”