gaza1The Labour Prime Minister: Gordon Brown (here)

What we have to do almost immediately is work harder than we have done for an immediate ceasefire.

I can see the Gaza issues for the Palestinians – that they need humanitarian aid — but the Israelis must have some assurance that there are no rocket attacks coming into Israel.

According to independent Palestinian sources, the death toll already stands at more than 500, of which approximately 70 are children and 27 women. Of the 2,650 Gazans injured, more than 270 are women and 650 children. Five Israelis have been killed since the start of Israel’s military operation, which is now in its 10th day.

The Labour MP: John McDonnell (here)

We are witnessing a bloody massacre in Gaza and yet the UK Government has stood by and simply repeated the usual ritual, ineffective statements of condemnation. I am calling for the recall of Parliament to enable MPs to make clear that we need our Government to take decisive action to help halt this bloodbath and secure a ceasefire. Our Government should be taking a leading role in bringing together a global coalition to isolate Israel diplomatically, economically and militarily. Only in this way will Israeli aggression be halted.

The bombings continue with mounting loss of life and suffering. It is widely understood that the assault on Gaza has been planned for some time. It is clearly timed as part of the electoral positioning of the political parties in Israel in the run up to the forthcoming elections. The Israeli political parties are vying to outbid each other on how more brutal they each can be in their treatment of the Palestinians.

The lack of decisive action so far from the UK government is a disgrace and the lack of firmness in dealing with this Israeli aggression by the incoming Obama administration is worrying for its future role on the Palestinian issue. As an aside the question also has to be asked about whatever happened to the Blair initiative?

On Saturday, Middle East peace Quartet envoy Tony Blair spoke to Jordan’s King Abdullah II by telephone. The King told Blair that the world’s ‘silence’ on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is unacceptable. Blair has since remained silent on the matter.

The Media: The Guardian (here)

There was only one certainty as Israel’s tanks and thousands of troops this weekend launched their biggest assault on Gaza for four years: the number of civilian casualties will rise exponentially. Israel may phone, text, drop leaflets and fire warning missiles at Gazans trapped in their homes, but the reality is that there is nowhere for 1.5m people to run. Gaza is a ghetto from which there is no escape.

Just before the ground offensive was launched on Saturday, Israel lobbed a shell into Palestine Square, Gaza City’s main shopping area and five Palestinians were killed. Earlier, they flattened the American International School, the one private school in the strip, which itself had been attacked by militants. Another air strike destroyed a mosque in Beit Hanoun during evening prayers killing around a dozen Palestinians. Yesterday afternoon a mother and her four children were killed by an air strike in Gaza City. As Israeli forces battled last night on the outskirts of Gaza City, the killing of innocent Palestinians continued.

The last time the tanks rolled into Gaza in February and March last year, more than half the Palestinian casualties were civilian, according to Human Rights Watch. That pattern is now set to be repeated. After a week’s aerial bombardment, the death toll already stands at nearly 500, of which approximately 70 are children and 27 women, according to independent Palestinian sources. Of the 2,650 Gazans injured, more than 270 are women and 650 children. So much for Israel’s claim that their targets are Hamas militants. Even if you stretch the term to include policemen, this is a “surgical” operation in which civilians will die in their hundreds.

The  online version of The Jewish Chronicle (here) describes the events in Gaza as an ‘incursion’ and that a “a new reality” was being created in the Strip that will ‘change the state of smuggling and in which quiet will prevail in the south’.

The President Elect (via his spokesman): Barack Obama (here)

The president-elect is closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza.

Save the Children staff in Gaza braved the fighting yesterday to deliver emergency aid packages to 6,000 people. Despite this, the charity said its stocks were now all but gone and the Israeli military was not allowing it to send in more supplies. Speaking from Jerusalem, Save the Children spokesman Dominic Nutt said: “We now have no supplies or very few supplies left. We can’t replenish our stocks – the pipeline has been cut. You’re looking at a catastrophe. It is hard to know how you would define a humanitarian disaster if this is not considered to be one.”

The Independent Witnesses: Human Rights Watch (here)

As an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza gets underway…both sides must stringently abide by the laws of war, including taking all feasible measures to avoid harm to civilians and facilitating access for humanitarian workers and medical personnel.

Human Rights Watch investigations of previous ground operations in Gaza and the West Bank by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) found evidence of unlawful killings by Israeli forces.

The IDF’s last major ground operation in Gaza, from February 27 to March 3, 2008, killed 107 Palestinians, more than half of whom were civilians, and wounded more than 200. Two Israeli soldiers died.

Human Rights Watch’s detailed field investigation of that operation found serious violations by the IDF, including the killing of a wounded man getting treatment in an ambulance, the shooting deaths of two civilians on donkey carts, and the shooting and wounding of two men in IDF custody. In two cases, tank crews opened fire on unarmed civilians. All of these incidents took place in an area that was firmly under the control of the IDF. Palestinian medics and ambulance drivers also faced restrictions on their ability to treat the wounded and dead – both civilians and combatants – and came under fire that killed one medic.

Human Rights Watch said that during past hostilities both sides have failed to take adequate steps to remove civilians from areas where there was fighting, putting them at unnecessary risk. A senior IDF legal advisor recently told Human Rights Watch that it is still standard procedure for IDF troops to detain civilians in houses in which the IDF deploys, thus exposing them to danger of attacks from Palestinian forces.

Past IDF ground operations raise additional concerns. Human Rights Watch’s on-the-ground investigation of the April 2002 IDF ground operation in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank found that at least 22 of the 52 Palestinians killed were civilians, including some as the result of unlawful or willful killings by the IDF. The IDF used armored bulldozers to demolish residents’ homes to clear the way for armored vehicles, but in some cases the destruction extended well beyond any conceivable military objective. The IDF blocked the passage of medical personnel and vehicles into Jenin refugee camp for 11 days, and IDF soldiers repeatedly fired on ambulances.

During Jenin and other ground operations, Israeli soldiers have at times forced civilians, sometimes at gunpoint, to accompany IDF troops during their searches of homes, forcing them to open doors and perform other dangerous tasks in violation of the laws of war. A 2005 Israeli Supreme Court ruling banned this practice.

A central problem has been the lack of accountability for past violations of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said. The IDF told Human Rights Watch that it had not opened any investigations into potentially unlawful deaths from the March 2008 Gaza operations, called Operation Warm Winter, although it was investigating three reported cases of theft by Israeli soldiers.

Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, “are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. However, murder, extermination, torture, rape, political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion”.

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