U.S. demands Hamas end terrorist acts, urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent, and News Agencies
The United States on Saturday urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties in air strikes on Gaza, and said Hamas must stop rocket attacks into Israel for the violence to cease.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put the responsibility for the violence on Hamas, saying “The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. The cease-fire should be restored immediately.”
Rice also called for the international community “to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza”
The White House did not call for an end to the Israel Air Force strikes that have killed at least 230 people in Hamas-ruled Gaza, according to Palestinian medical sources.
“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,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
“The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza,” he said.
The Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip will closely resemble the Second Lebanon War, Hamas vowed on Saturday after a series of Israel Air Force strikes on the coastal enclave.
Hamas officials said all of Gaza’s security compounds were destroyed. Hamas said it would seek revenge, including launching new rocket attacks on Israel and sending suicide bombers to Israel.
“Hamas will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, speaking on a Gaza radio station.
“Hamas is in good shape and the government is in good shape,” Barhoum told Al Jazeera. “The world will see many things from us. Now all options are open before the Az a-Din al-Qassam Brigades” (Hamas’ military wing).
“Even if Israel kills the current heads of Hamas, there are hundreds of others that are capable of leading the organization,” Mushir al-Masri, a senior Hamas official, said following the IAF strikes.
Al-Masri warned Israel that the targeting of senior Hamas officials will be met with “a harsh response” from the Islamist group.
“Assassinations of Hamas heads will not weaken us and we will not lose control but rather they will boost our forces and our stability,” al-Masri said. “Within the movement there are leaders that will fill the missing ranks at any moment.” He added that Hamas leaders are cognizant of the threats on their lives and thus take the necessary precautions.
“All fighters are ordered to respond to the Israeli slaughter,” said a statement by the Islamic Jihad group, echoing statements issued by Hamas and other armed factions.
The head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt condemned the IAF attacks as “massacres” that were carried out “in criminal fashion.”
“They are trying to subjugate the Arab and Islamic world through these massacres in Gaza – God willing victory will come,” the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt told Al Jazeera.
Hamam Said, the secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, called on the Jordanian government to abrogate its peace treaty with Israel. He also urged all Arab armies to embark on a war against Israel.
“The time has come for us to crush the Jewish enemy and to purify Palestine,” Said said. “Everyone must take to the streets and highways, come from wherever you are.”
Labor unions in Jordan organized a mass demonstration to protest the IAF strikes in Gaza. “Egypt? The mother of the world, is not Gaza part of the world?” read one placard which was brandished during the protest.
The demonstrators called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’ Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh to forge a united front.
Hadash, the predominantly Arab leftist party, will stage a demonstration on Saturday in Nazareth to protest the IAF operations in Gaza. Hadash chairman Mohammed Barakeh called on the government “to immediately halt the crime in the Gaza Strip.”
“Escalation will not bring quiet and calm,” Barakeh said. “It is inconceivable for the Palestinian people in Gaza to live between starvation and bombardment. The government and the defense minister are trying to gain political capital in an election period on account of the bloodletting of the Palestinian people.”
MK Jamal Zahalka, who is the chairman of the Balad faction, called for Defense Minister Ehud Barak to be tried for “war crimes” in Gaza.
“Barak is trying to win votes in exchange for Palestinian blood,” he said.
In the West Bank, Hamas’ rival, moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement that he condemns this “aggression” and calls for restraint, according to an aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh.
Palestinian Authority official Yasser Abed Rabbo condemned the Israeli strike on Gaza as “a barbaric act,” according to Channel 10.
Responding to pressure from the Arab world, Egypt ordered the opening of the Rafah crossing to absorb wounded Palestinians from Gaza, Channel 10 reported.
European leaders respond to Gaza escalation
The spokesman for European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana criticized the escalation of fighting in the Gaza Strip and called for both sides to call a ceasefire, saying “We are very concerned at the events in Gaza. We call for an immediate ceasefire and urge everybody to exert maximum restraint.”
A spokesman for French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for an end to the violence, saying Sarkozy “demands an immediate stop to the firing of rockets on Israel and to the Israeli bombings in Gaza and calls for all parties to use restraint.”
Pleas for calm were echoed by the British Foreign office, which said “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”
The UK foreign office also called for Gaza militants “to immediately
cease all rocket attacks on Israel.”
“I am deeply concerned by continuing missile strikes from Gaza on Israel and by Israel’s response today.”
Moscow also called for an end to hostilities, with a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry saying “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 miltants in the Gaza Strip to immediately cease all rocket attacks on Israel.”
The Vatican’s spokesman has urged Israelis and Palestinians to renounce violence and seek a peaceful solution to their conflict.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio on Saturday that Israel’s
offensive will be a very serious blow to the Islamic militant group Hamas but could also cause many innocent victims and damage peace prospects in the Holy Land.
Lombardi said all sides must look for a different way out, even though it
Arab world denounces IAF strikes
The Arab world reacted in shock to the attacks on the Gaza Strip on Saturday with scattered protests around the region and Egypt summoning the Israeli ambassador to express its condemnation of the air strikes.
In a statement from the president’s office, Egypt condemned Israel’s attacks and held it responsible for those killed and wounded and called for renewed efforts to restore the truce with Hamas.
“Egypt will forge ahead with its contacts to create a favorable atmosphere for renewing the truce and attaining inter-Palestinian reconciliation in a bid to end the suffering of the Palestinian people,” the statement said.
Egypt also opened its border with the Gaza Strip to receive Palestinian
Egypt’s closure of that border has been condemned by many in the Arab world for abetting Israel’s siege of the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip.
Arab League head Amr Moussa, meanwhile, called for an emergency meeting of all Arab foreign ministers in Cairo Sunday to address the crisis.
Hundreds of protesters in the Jordanian capital of Amman demonstrated in front of the nearby UN headquarters, waving Hamas banners and condemning Israel’s strikes.
King Abdullah II called for an immediate halt all military actions in a statement issued by the royal palace, saying the attacks targeted innocents among the civilians including women and children.
The king warned that “violence will only escalate the crisis and will not bring security to Israel.”
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fuad Saniora described the Israeli attacks as a
“criminal operation and new massacres to be added to its full record of
In the country’s south, dozens of Palestinian youths hit the streets in Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp to express solidarity with Gaza and set fire to tires. Larger demonstrations were planned later in the day in the camp and in the capital Beirut itself.
In Syria’s al-Yarmouk camp, outside Damascus, dozens of Palestinians also protested the attack as well, vowing to continue fighting Israel.
“It’s a Zionist holocaust, but it won’t dissuade us from going on with our struggle to achieve our goals,” said Ali Barakah, 42, one of the protesters.