Israeli barrage of Gaza continues with strike on PM's office

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Israel has continued its barrage of the Gaza Strip with an attack by a helicopter gunship on the office of the Palestinian prime minister. The attack, which left the building ablaze, injured three Palestinian security guards and was described by the prime minister, Ismail Haniya, as senseless. "This is the policy of the jungle and arrogance," Haniya told Reuters. "They have targeted a symbol for the Palestinian people."

Israel claims the attack on Gaza, codenamed Operation Summer Rains, is to pressure the Palestinian government into freeing Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli tank gunner Israel describes as having been kidnapped by Palestinian militants on Monday.

Other Israeli strikes on Saturday night hit a school in Gaza City and Hamas facilities in the town of Jabalia in the north of the strip where one 34-year-old Hamas operative was killed and another wounded.

"Difficult days"

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert stated "these are difficult days for Israel," and continued to proclaim that "we won't give in to terror." Olmert's cabinet met on Sunday morning to discuss the continuing operation in Gaza and the, as yet unsuccessful, efforts to have Shalit returned to Israel.

Palestinian militant sources claimed overnight that an agreement over the release of the soldier was close. They stipulated that Israel must make a commitment to a third party to future releases of Palestinian prisoners and end its attacks on the Gaza Strip, although they accepted that immediate releases were unlikely.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rejected these demands and said that Israel would make no deals.

Attacks labelled "war crimes"

In other developments, human rights group Amnesty International described what they called Israeli forces' deliberate attacks against civilian property and infrastructure as acts which "violate international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes." Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions prohibits "indiscriminate attacks ... which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated."

"Israel must now take urgent measures to remedy the long-term damage it has caused and immediately restore the supply - at its own cost - of electricity and water to the Palestinian population in the affected areas," urged the organization. "As the occupying power, Israel is bound under international law to protect and safeguard the basic human rights of the Palestinian population," Amnesty International said.

Israeli air strikes earlier damaged Gaza's only power plant, knocking out 43 percent of the electricity supply to 1.4 million Palestinians. UN and Palestinian officials predicted water shortages and sewage flooding within days if emergency generators run out of fuel. Israel has closed border crossings and shut off its fuel pipeline into Gaza.

"I'll be lucky if I can continue [pumping] for a few days. Then, unfortunately, there will be shortages of drinking water," stated the mayor of Gaza City, Majed Abu Ramadan.

Water shortages could lead to a health crisis in the Gaza Strip, with some reports of hospitals already cutting back on routine care in order to save fuel. It is expected that damage to the power plant will take five to six months to repair.

University Airstrike

There have also been witness reports of the bombing of a pro-Hamas Islamic University within Gaza City. Initially reported by the Reuters News Agency the army has said it is looking into the report. There were no casualties.