Assault on Gaza: Day of grief and defiance

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, rejected international calls yesterday to end the "excessive" and "disproportionate" military operation in Gaza which has claimed the lives of 101 Palestinians – including many children and other civilians –since Wednesday.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called on Israel to halt the air and ground attacks which on Saturday alone claimed the lives of at least 54 Palestinians in the most lethal single day of violence since the beginning of the second intifada more than seven years ago. The Slovenian EU presidency – while condemning the rocket attacks from Gaza which Israel says it is trying to stop – condemned the "recent disproportionate use of force by the Israel Defence Forces against the Palestinian population of Gaza, noted the death of "innocent children" and said that such acts of "collective punishment" were against international law.

But as the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, announced that he was breaking off US-brokered negotiations with Israel as long as its "aggression" continued, Mr Olmert told the weekly meeting of the Israeli Cabinet: "Israel has no intention of stopping the fight against the terrorist organisations even for a minute." He declared: "With all due respect ... no one has the right to preach morality to Israel for employing its elementary right of self-defence."

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Israel's most important ally in the Muslim world, also decried the "disproportionate force" used in attacks which were killing "children and civilians" and complained that Israel was rejecting a "diplomatic" solution to the conflict.

In Washington, the White House spokesman, Gordon Jondroe, said the violence, which also claimed the lives of two Israeli soldiers on Saturday and a 47-year-old Israeli mature student in a rocket attack on Wednesday, "needs to stop and the talks need to resume". The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said he was "deeply concerned" by the Palestinian decision to halt negotiations.

In Gaza, medical officials said a 21-month-old Palestinian girl, two other civilians and three militants were killed yesterday. The Israeli military said four soldiers had been hurt and two Israeli civilians were slightly injured after 21 rockets were launched by militants, including three longer range Katyushas, one of which directly hit a house in Ashkelon.

Among those buried yesterday were six members of one family including its head, Abd el-Rahman Mohammad Ali Atallah, and his 60-year-old wife, Suad, two sons and two daughters, who were killed late on Saturday afternoon when their house was destroyed by three aerial bombs which residents near by said also injured four children including a two-day-old infant. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which documents all Palestinian deaths, and is opposed to all attacks on non-combatants including in Israel, said 49 of the dead since Wednesday were civilians.

As thousands of Gazans streamed on foot through streets abnormally empty of cars because of severe fuel shortages to and from near-continuous funerals in Beit Lahiya and Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan cemetery, Fatima Abed Rabbo, 23, told how she was shot in the left shoulder as she stood by her one-year-old daughter, Doha, at her home in Jabalya during the bloody first hour of the Israeli incursion shortly after midnight on Saturday.

Lying on her bed at the Kamal Odwan hospital, where the first 40 dead victims of the assault were brought on Saturday morning, Mrs Abed Rabbo said the shot had come through the door of her balcony at about the same time as her friends and neighbours Jaqueline and Eyad Abu Shbak, a teenage brother and his sister, were killed in their home.

She said Jaqueline, 16, who she said had been hit by shrapnel after an Israeli missile hit a parked car outside the home, was an especially good student in the science department of her high school. Eyad, 14, who was struck by a bullet, had just started high school.

"They were excellent people," she said. "Our family and theirs were always in and out of each other's houses. Two ambulances came at the same time to take us away. They were dead and I was alive."

Mrs Abed Rabbo was close to tears how she described how she was still breastfeeding Doha but had had no contact with her or her two-and-half-year-old son, Anas, both of whom were being cared for by relatives, since being taken to hospital because of the military closure of the area after the incursion. "The phones are not working and my husband who came with me in the ambulance has not been able to get back." A spokesman for the Red Cross confirmed yesterday evening that Palestinian ambulances were still unable to reach parts of the area of the incursion to pick up injured persons.

Mrs Abed Rabbo, the wife of a policeman employed by the Fatah-dominated administration in Ramallah, which has outlawed Hamas, said her extended family in that district had nothing to do with the armed factions and insisted that her street was not used for firing rockets. "There are no orange groves here for people to hide in. I don't know how the Arab world is standing by while this is happening. I feel they are giving the green light to what is happening here. We are sick of denunciations, denunciations. We want people to come and change this situation. I hope you will take this reality to the Arabs, the whole world and especially the Americans."

Mrs Abed Rabbo insisted that although Hamas and other militants may have fired at IDF troops after she was taken to hospital, there had been no firing beforehand. "If the resistance had been firing the ambulance would never have got to me," she said. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights claimed the Israeli forces "fired indiscriminately as they advanced".

Nearby houses and apartment blocks were evacuated early yesterday after two missiles inflicted limited damage on the ground floor and top floor of the offices of de facto Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, in what a Hamas security guard at the site said had been a "message". He added: "My guess is that [the Israelis] will come back and hit it again."

Hamas gunmen could be seen at street corners in doorways in the Al Journ and Masoud districts of Jabalya yesterday, apparently ready to fight against Israeli forces deployed a few hundred metres away.

After nightfall, two loud explosions could be heard from Israeli air strikes, including on a building in the Beach refugee camp where Mr Haniyeh lives.

In the West Bank town of Hebron, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by troops during a protest against the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

A military spokesman said that youths had thrown firebombs in a "violent demonstration" which had put soldiers at risk.

Voices from the Gaza blogs

"I had a long day, an awful day, taking photos and writing from on the ground in Gaza City and northern Gaza. I met with two children who survived Wednesday's Jabalya soccer bombing: the other four kids were, as you likely know, killed. One of the children I saw had no flesh on their legs, had burns all over their bodies." - Rafah Today – Daily Life in Palestine , Mohammed Omer in Rafah, Gaza

"We celebrated Yousuf's fourth birthday today. We ate cake. And we counted the bodies. We sang happy birthday. And my mother sobbed. We watched the fighter jets roar voraciously on our television screen, pounding street after street. Yousuf tore open his presents, and asked my mother to make a paper zanana, a drone, for him with origami; And we were torn open from the inside, engulfed by a feeling of impotence and helplessness; fear and anger and grief; despondence and confusion." - Raising Yousuf, Unplugged: diary of a Palestinian mother , Laila El-Haddad in Gaza City

"Walking to the Red Crescent Society (I do not have fuel in my car), I can hear successive explosions, from different parts of the city, and the drone in the sky. I can also clearly see the security forces soldiers, outside their headquarters, as it is under threat of bombing by the Israeli military forces. I had to walk very fast , expecting the worst. Arriving at work, I find we do not have enough fuel for the ambulance and other vehicles. No fuel has entered Gaza for 17 days , our store has been exhausted.Oh my God, this situation will have its disastrous impact on our health facilities." - From Gaza, With Love, Dr Mona El-Farra , Gaza City

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