On Fourth Day of the Gaza Battle, No End in Sight
JERUSALEM — Israel launched airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza for a fourth consecutive day on Tuesday as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the bombardment “the first of several stages,” suggesting that the conflict was far from resolution.
Israeli aircraft bombed a government compound, buildings linked to the Islamic University and the home of a top Hamas commander in a continued onslaught on Tuesday that left Gaza without electric power, according to residents of the beleaguered enclave.
Gaza residents said Israeli warships in increasing numbers were visible from the enclave’s Mediterranean shoreline, while Israeli tanks and troops massed on its land border. But despite the encirclement, Hamas militants remained defiant, launching 10 rockets into southern Israel on Tuesday. One hit an apartment house in the town of Sderot, injuring one person, witnesses said.
Israeli says its offensive, which began Saturday, is intended to neutralize the threat posed to southern Israel by Hamas rockets. As the airstrikes continued Tuesday, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit told Israel Radio, “There is no room for a cease-fire.”
“The government is determined to remove the threat of fire on the south,” he said, referring to rocket attacks on southern Israel by Hamas forces. “Therefore the Israeli Army must not stop the operation before breaking the will of Palestinians, of Hamas, to continue to fire at Israel.”
At a meeting with President Shimon Peres, Mr. Olmert said the air attacks that began on Saturday were “the first of several stages approved by the security cabinet,” according to Mr. Peres’s office.
“The government is giving the military its full backing and the room for maneuver to achieve the goal set out by the government,” Mr. Olmert said. But it remained uncertain whether Israel would follow the aerial attack with a ground offensive.
The military has created a two-mile war cordon along the Gaza border, with commanders saying that a ground force invasion was a distinct possibility but had not yet been decided upon.
The latest attacks came a day after Israeli jets struck Hamas’s civic institutions, including the Islamic University, the Interior Ministry and a presidential guesthouse. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Parliament on Monday that his country was waging an “all-out war with Hamas.”
Israel has defined its aims relatively narrowly — the crippling of Hamas’s ability to send rockets into Israel — but has not made clear if it means to topple the leadership of Hamas, which Israel and the United States have branded a terrorist organization.
Hamas sought to cast its fighters as martyrs in a continuing battle against Israel, the lone resisters in a Palestinian population divided between Gaza, where Hamas rules, and the West Bank, which is governed by the rival Fatah organization.
On Monday, Hamas fired more than 70 rockets, including a long-range one into the booming city of Ashdod some 18 miles from Gaza, where it hit a bus stop, killing a woman and injuring two other people. Earlier, a rocket hit nearby Ashkelon, killing an Israeli-Arab construction worker and wounding three others. The other dead Israelis, The Associated Press reported, were a civilian in the Negev Desert and a soldier.
Thousands of Israelis huddled in shelters as the long-range rockets hit streets or open areas late in the night, the most serious display of Hamas’s arsenal since the Israeli assault began.
Residents of Gaza pulled relatives from the rubble of prominent institutions leveled by waves of Israeli F-16 attacks, as hospitals struggled to keep up with the wounded and the dead and doctors scrambled for supplies. Hamas gunmen publicly shot suspected collaborators with Israel; families huddled around battery-powered radios, desperate for news.
Despite the hostilities, around 100 trucks laden with emergency food and medical supplies donated by international bodies awaited permission to enter Gaza to deliver their cargo. At sea, an Israeli naval vessel collided with a small boat carrying Palestinian sympathizers and medical supplies, forcing it to divert to Lebanon.
In Crawford, Tex., a spokesman for President Bush renewed calls on Monday for the parties to reach a cease-fire but said Israel was justified in retaliating against Hamas’s attacks. “Let’s just take this one day at a time,” said the spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe.
Israel sent in some 40 trucks of humanitarian relief, including blood from Jordan and medicine. Egypt opened its border with Gaza to some similar aid and to allow some of the wounded through.
At Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the director, Dr. Hussein Ashour, said Monday that keeping his patients alive was an enormous challenge. He said there were some 1,500 wounded people distributed among Gaza’s nine hospitals with far too few intensive care units, equipped ambulances and other vital equipment.
Armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes roamed the halls. Asked their function, they said it was to provide security. But there was internal bloodletting under way.
In the fourth-floor orthopedic section, a woman in her late 20s asked a militant to let her see Saleh Hajoj, her 32-year-old husband. She was turned away and left the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Hajoj was carried out by young men pretending to transfer him to another ward. As he lay on the stretcher, he was shot in the left side of the head.
Mr. Hajoj, like five others killed at the hospital this way in 24 hours, was accused of collaboration with Israel. He had been in the central prison awaiting trial by Hamas judges; when Israel destroyed the prison on Sunday he and the others were transferred to the hospital. But their trials were short-circuited.
Sobhia Jomaa, a lawyer with the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights, said 115 accused collaborators were in the central prison. None had been executed by Hamas since it took office and their cases were monitored closely.
“The prison provided the sole protection to all of them,” she said. “But once it was bombed, many wanted to take revenge.”
Across the street from the hospital, a mosque where militants often took refuge has been destroyed by Israel, one of five mosques it has hit.
The Hamas television station was taken out by an Israeli missile on Monday and most local radio stations have closed out of fear of suffering the same fate.
Despite an apparent effort to limit the attacks to specific buildings, ordinary Gazans are constantly caught up in the bombing. On Saturday, when dozens of Israeli sorties were made simultaneously, a group of young people, ages 18 to 20, were hit when a missile was aimed at a group of Hamas policemen in the street. According to a statement by the United Nations’ special coordinator, Robert Serry, eight of the young people, emerging from a United Nations training center, were killed instantly and 19 were wounded. Eight of those hurt were in critical condition on Monday. One is awaiting emergency transfer to an Israeli hospital.
Mr. Serry sent Mr. Barak a letter of protest.
In the Jabalya refugee camp on Sunday, an attack on a mosque where militants were hiding also struck a nearby house, killing five girls under the age of 18, Health Ministry officials said.
Meanwhile in Israel, sirens wailed over mostly empty streets in the seaside city of Ashkelon. Storefronts were battered shut.
Families clustered inside the city’s stretches of towering white apartment blocks and single-family houses. Weary of venturing too far outside, they scurried into protected rooms when sirens sounded, listening for the sound of another rocket crashing somewhere in their city.
It is a city that is reluctantly getting used to its status as the front line. “It’s frightening, but what can we do?” asked Chen Hassan, 18, a high school senior. She woke up Monday morning, jolted by the sound of a missile hitting a public library under construction across the street.
The rocket killed the construction worker and wounded several others, Bedouins from the Negev Desert in Israel.