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Hamas given ultimatum, Israeli missiles hit Gaza media center

By | Last updated: Nov 20, 2012 - 3:12:44 PM

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A Palestinian man cries next to the dead bodies of four children in the morgue of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Nov. 18. An Israeli missile flattened a two-story house in a residential neighborhood of Gaza City, killing at least 11 civilians shortly after Israel announced plans to intensify an offensive by attacking the homes of targeted leaders, medical officials said. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra says five women, including an 80-year-old woman, and four small children were among the dead. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

Israel has warned Hamas it will step up its offensive in the Gaza Strip in 36 hours if they do not cease rocket fire.

Fears of an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza have heightened following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement Nov. 18 that the Israeli Defese Force was “prepared for a significant expansion of the operation.” Additionally, the Israeli cabinet has doubled the troop reserve quota for the Gaza offensive and called up 16,000 reservists.

Israel has demanded that Hamas cease firing rockets into Israel for a period of “several years” and that they stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. The conditions are part of a six-part proposal put forward by the Israeli government at negotiations with Hamas in Cairo.

On Nov. 19 Hamas’ Moussa Abu Marzuk said Hamas would not accept the creation of an Israeli “security belt” in eastern Gaza.

Eighty-four percent of Israelis support the ongoing Operation Pillar of Defense, and only 12 percent are opposed to it, according to a poll published in Ha’aretz daily, however, only 30 percent of those surveyed support a ground invasion of Gaza.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in Cairo Nov. 19 in a bid to aid Egyptian efforts to mediate a ceasefire. He was set to meet with both Israel’s Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas Nov. 20.

The IDF provoked international ire and accusations of a massacre following what they called an accidental bombing of a civilian household during air strikes on the evening of Nov. 18. Eleven civilians, four of them children, perished. Israel says it is investigating the incident and that the misfire was due to a technical hitch in their targeting equipment.

Meanwhile the conflict shows no signs of letting up, with both sides using bellicose rhetoric. The death toll on Nov. 19 stood at 101 Palestinians, while three Israelis were killed in rocket fire on Nov. 15, a day after the IDF assassinated the head of the Hamas military wing, Ahmed Jabari.

Media center hit for second time

The Al-Sharouk compound, which houses many media offices in Gaza, was targeted once again in an Israeli airstrike. Islamic Jihad says one of its top leaders was killed in the attack.

A pillar of smoke was seen billowing from the 10-story building as fire engines and ambulances rushed to the scene. Islamic Jihad says one of its top leaders, Ramiz Harb was killed Nov. 19. Mr. Harb was a leading figure Islamic Jihad’s militant wing, the Al-Quds Brigades. The IDF described him as a chief propagandist for the group.

Apart from Harb, Baha Abu al-Ata Tissir, the commander of Islamic Jihad’s Gaza City Brigade, and senior operatives Mahmoud Mahmed Jabari and Halil Batini were believed to be in the building at the time of the attack. It is currently unknown if the other three men died in the attack.

The International Federation of Journalists demanded a full inquiry by the United Nations to investigate “deliberate attacks” by the Israeli military against media buildings in Gaza and to “take action” against the country’s government.

“The international community must respond immediately to this outrage. The rights of journalists in conflict zones have been particularly highlighted by the United Nations and members states cannot stand by when one state acts in a reckless and dangerous manner,” the group released in a statement on Nov. 19.

Children and ruined buildings in Gaza. Photo: MGN Online
Six journalists were injured following a previous Israeli airstrike on two buildings in the media compound early Nov. 18. RT’s office in Gaza was also affected by the attack. RT Arabic correspondent Saed Suerki said the Israeli Air Force (IAF) had intentionally targeted the tower blocks, which have housed foreign and local media offices for over a decade.

Witnesses said the buildings were evacuated after the initial attack, which was followed by at least two more hits. Two buildings were heavily damaged.

Sky News, Italian RAI, German ARD, Kuwait-TV are among the media outlets working out of the compound. The Hamas TV station, Al-Aqsa is located on the top floor. Some of those injured Nov. 18 were employees of the Palestinian Ma’an news agency. A cameraman for the local al-Quds TV had his leg amputated as a result of injuries he received during the strike.

The Middle East Foreign Press Association demanded an explanation as to why the IDF was targeting media buildings, which is a violation of international law, following the airstrikes. Reporters Without Borders also condemned the Israeli missile attacks.

The Israeli military said it was aware that foreign journalists were in the buildings, but were not directly targeted in the airstrikes.

Meshaal blames Netanyahu for deaths

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal accused Netanyahu of becoming thirsty for “killings” of Palestinians ahead of the elections, predicting the PM will lose the elections. Hamas leader also said that Israel’s talk about a ground operation is bluff. “Now he [Netanyahu] is brandishing to pressure regional players to pressure Hamas, if he wished to launch it, he would have done it,” Mr. Meshaal said at a press conference in Cairo. He also expressed gratitude to all the media organizations operating in Gaza for “carrying truth.”

Mr. Meshaal reiterated the Islamic resistance movement has no interest in an escalation of the ongoing conflict in Gaza, though Israel must be the party to stop the war since they started it. He says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had initially called for a ceasefire, a claim which Israel denied. (