Palestinians mark date of Israeli offensive


SIRENS WAILED across the Gaza Strip yesterday morning as Palestinians marked the first anniversary of Israel’s 22-day offensive during which 1,440 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

A monument bearing names of Palestinians who died was unveiled and grieving Gazans took part in a candlelit vigil, but fewer than expected attended rallies organised by Hamas.

Gaza’s de facto prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, declared Hamas the victor because Israel’s army withdrew without wiping out the movement’s forces or toppling his government. He praised the “fortitude” of Gazans who withstood constant Israeli bombardment “from land, sea and air”.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called for the international community to adopt a “fundamentally different” approach to Gaza by addressing the underlying causes of the war and its consequences. “There is a sense of hopelessness in Gaza today for 1.5 million Palestinians, half of whom are under 18.” He called on Israel “to end the unacceptable and counter- productive blockade of Gaza, facilitate economic activity and civilian reconstruction, and fully respect and uphold international law.” He urged Hamas to end violence and respect international law.

Four hundred human rights activists, led by British MP George Galloway, began a hunger strike to protest Cairo’s refusal to allow a convoy of 150 lorries carrying medical and food aid to dock at the Egyptian port of Nuseiba and make the four-hour land journey to the strip. The Egyptians told organisers of the convoy, stranded at the Jordanian port of Aqaba, to sail round the Sinai peninsula, cross to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and dock at al-Arish, half an hour’s drive from Gaza. This journey would take time and boost costs. The convoy, dubbed “Lifeline 3” was due in Gaza yesterday. From the strikers’ camp in a car park, Mr Galloway declared the convoy is “going nowhere except to Gaza”.

In Egypt, 38 peace activists seeking to enter Gaza were detained by police determined to block a march by 1,300 intending to stage a blockade-busting freedom march into Gaza.

On Saturday, Israel killed six Palestinians in two separate actions in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel dispatched undercover units into the West Bank city of Nablus where the soldiers killed three men accused of involvement in Thursday’s shooting of an Israeli settler. Israel alleged the Palestinians – Raad Sarkaji, Ghassan Abu Shaikh, and Adnan Subuh – belonged to Fatah’s armed wing and claimed the men were shot while resisting arrest. However, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said two of the three men may have been executed at close range.

Speaking at a wake in Nablus, Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad denounced the assassinations and said the Israeli operation was designed to undermine “the state of security and stability which the Palestinian Authority has achieved”. Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh called the operation a “grave Israeli escalation” that “shows Israel is not interested in peace and is trying to explode the situation.” The funerals were attended by some 20,000 people.

The other three men were killed by an Israeli warplane near the border fence in northern Gaza. Israel claimed the men were planning to infiltrate its territory, while family members said they were collecting scrap metal.

Two Hamas members were killed yesterday when their car exploded in Beirut’s southern suburbs, stronghold of Lebanon’s Hizbullah, ahead of commemorations of the seventh-century slaying of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein.