Israel, Hamas ignore U.N. cease-fire resolution
Israel and Hamas ignored a United Nations cease-fire resolution Friday, with the Israeli army attacking 70 targets in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants firing a barrage of rockets at southern Israel from the beleaguered seaside enclave.
The conflict in Gaza continued for a 14th day with little indication the international community or an Egyptian-backed peace initiative would bring a quick end to hostilities. Hamas officials said they would not heed a resolution they were not consulted about. Israel, complaining that the U.N. action was unworkable, kept thousands of army reservists on alert and vowed to continue the offensive.
“The state of Israel has never agreed that any outside body would determine its right to defend the security of its citizens,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.
Hamas spokesman Sami abu Zuhri said the U.N. failed to consider the interests of the Palestinian people.
“This resolution doesn’t mean that the war is over,” he said on satellite television channel Al Jazeera. “We call on the Palestinian fighters to mobilize and be ready to face the offensive, and we urge the Arab masses to carry on with their angry protests.”
As Israeli officials quickly defied the U.N. resolution, the nation’s media were reporting that differences were emerging within the government over how aggressive to be in the coming days. The ground invasion advanced quickly early on, but Israeli troops have not breached Gaza’s most heavily populated urban areas, where sustained fighting could lead to higher casualties.
Israel was under increasing international pressure over a military campaign that has killed more than 780 Palestinians, at least one-third of them civilians, according to Gaza medical workers. The Israeli Supreme Court gave government officials four days to explain why the army has delayed the evacuation of many wounded Palestinians to medical facilities. The U.N., citing growing danger, on Thursday suspended the movements of its workers in Gaza after one of its truck drivers was killed.
“We did not attack the truck, this is unequivocal,” said an Israeli army spokesman. “The driver was not killed by IDF fire, period.”
U.N. relief officials have called for an investigation into the deaths of 30 civilians killed this week when Israeli shells battered a compound where they had taken refuge. They had gathered there after being ordered out of their homes in Gaza City’s Zeitoun district. John Holmes, U.N. chief of humanitarian aid programs, called the deaths “a particularly outrageous incident.”
Meanwhile Israel’s air and artillery attacks thundered across Gaza on Friday, stopping only for a few hours as part of a daily truce to allow wounded Palestinians to seek medical aid and families to shop for food and supplies. In the northern town of Beit Lahiya, six members of one family, including an infant, were killed when their home was destroyed in an airstrike, according to witnesses and medical officials.
Roads were nearly deserted around the south Gaza town of Khan Yunis, where Israeli forces clashed this week with militants. Near a badly damaged school and six flattened houses, Mohammed Smeiro and his 12-year-old son scoured blood off the street. They said the blood belonged to two cousins, Maather Mohammed Zneid, 23, and Faten Abdel Aziz Zneid, 33, who were putting on their veils when a missile hit.
“I could see what happened through my window,” said Smeiro. “Their bodies were cut to pieces. . . . Later, a relative found one of the mothers and she came and identified the bodies.”
The wife of Hamid Mohyi Smairi wept at a nearby house. She was surrounded by other women; they were weeping too.
“My husband went yesterday morning to bring us some food from the shop. We heard shots and we did not know what happened,” she said. “His body was in the street until after the Israeli troops left this morning. We found out that he had a bullet in the chest, and another one in his leg.”
She cursed. Not far away, the neighborhood of Qarara looked like a hill of stones and blocks. The Al Zuheir mosque was nearly wiped away and more than 40 houses around it were destroyed. Gaza’s streets and corners are like that, piles of mortar, cement, wood, iron rods, and other materials that once were shops and houses and places of prayer. Israeli officials say these same buildings are often used by militants to fire rockets and mortar shells.
Many families in Qarara have sought shelter at a U.N. school, including Hisham abu Modeif, who could not have a traditional mourning tent for his father, Jihad, because the streets were too dangerous. Instead, he and several relatives buried him with little ceremony and hurried back to the school; Jihad had died Thursday about 100 yards from his home.
“Today, when the Israeli troops withdrew, I went to the area and found my father,” said Abu Modeif. “He bled to death after he was hit in the chest.”
Politics, diplomacy and negotiations have seemed to make scant progress. The U.N. Security Council, which voted 14-0 for the resolution, with the U.S. abstaining, was quickly snubbed by Israel and barely acknowledged by Hamas.
Israeli and Hamas officials in recent days have been shuttling to Cairo to meet with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman on a possible cease-fire deal. But neither side has embraced the idea. Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, wants the Israeli assault to stop and the 18-month blockade around Gaza lifted. Israel refuses to halt its incursion until it is sure that militants from Hamas and other groups will stop firing rockets and that tunnels to smuggle weapons from Egypt into Gaza are destroyed.
The Egyptian-backed initiative, which the U.S. supports, appeared stalled. Two other key stumbling blocks remained: the absence of a reconciliation between Hamas and the Fatah faction led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that could lead to security sharing along the Egyptian-Gazan border, and Egypt’s reluctance to allow a sizable international force to patrol its territory to stop arms entering the Palestinian area.
Israel reported that rockets launched by militants landed in the Beersheba and Ashkelon areas. Since Israel began its air attacks Dec. 27, there have been at least 13 Israeli deaths -- 10 soldiers, four of them killed by “friendly fire,” and three civilians. The offensive, Israel says, has been designed to halt the militant rocket attacks from Gaza, which Hamas seized control of in mid-2007 as a unity government with rival Fatah fell apart.
In neighboring Egypt and Jordan, tens of thousands of people protested the Israeli offensive and clashed with police. Both countries have diplomatic relations with Israel.
In Egypt’s Sinai region, protesters threw rocks at police, and riots broke out in the Jordanian capital, Amman, after more than 2,000 demonstrators leaving Friday prayers marched toward the Israeli Embassy, forcing their way past several checkpoints. The Jordanian protesters cheered Venezuela, waving the flag of the nation whose president, Hugo Chavez, expelled the Israeli ambassador over the Gaza offensive.
“Today the entire Jordanian people have a clear demand, shutting down the Israeli Embassy,” said Zaki Bani Arshid, leader of the Islamic Action Front, the Jordanian branch of Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood. “It defies logic that while a country far away with no cultural ties to the Arab world like Venezuela cuts its ties with Israel, in Jordan we are keeping the Israeli Embassy.”
Batsheva Sobelman of The Times’ Jerusalem Bureau, special correspondents Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City and Fayed abu Shammaleh in Cairo, and Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi and special correspondent Raed Rafei in Beirut contributed to this report.