By George Whitten, BosNewsLife Jerusalem Bureau Chief with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (Worthy News) — The militant group Hamas admitted Thursday, January 15, that Israel had killed one of its key ministers in a major air strike in Gaza City, while the United Nations expressed outrage that Israeli forces attacked a U.N. compound used by refugees.
The incidents came as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had come to try to negotiate a cease-fire. Speaking at a joint press conference with Israel’s foreign minister, Ban condemned the attack on the compound in Gaza City, where officials said some 700 refugees were hiding.
“The U.N. compound in Gaza has been shelled again,” he said. “I conveyed my strong protest and outrage to the defense minister and the foreign minister and demanded a full explanation.”
Israel said it regretted the incident, but added that Israeli forces had responded to attacks by Hamas militants, who it accuses of using civilians as human shields.
It was not immediately clear how many people had died in the strike. Palestinian medics claim up to 1,000 people have died since the Israeli offensive began in the Gaza Strip nearly three weeks ago. International groups have also expressed concerns about the area’s tiny Christian community, who they believe are in the cross fire of militant, and Israeli, attacks.
HAMAS ADMITS KILLING
It came as Hamas television said an Israeli artillery strike Thursday, January 15, killed the third most senior Hamas leader in Gaza. Saeed Siam was killed “in the latest shelling on a house” in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, said Al-Aqsa TV, which showed images of a body it identified as Siam.
Siam reportedly served as interior minister in the Hamas-led government before it was dissolved in 2007. He ranked behind only former Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and former Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar in Hamas’ Gaza hierarchy, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The Israeli military confirmed it targeted a house where Siam was believed to be present. Israel suggested that the action was needed as despite an Egyptian cease-fire initiative, which Hamas said it accepted “in principle”, rockets continue to rain down into Israel.
On Thursday, January 15, at least 16 rockets were fired from Gaza; 15 rockets on Wednesday, January 15, Worthy News learned.
On Wednesday, January 15, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) attacked some 70 “terrorist sites” throughout the Gaza Strip, according to an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) statement monitored by Worthy News.
The IDF said it also targeted some 35 Hamas militants. Eleven IDF soldiers were injured in the intense fighting last night, the military said.
NO TRUCE YET
The fighting came despite Hamas’ announcement that it accepted an Egyptian based cease-fire initiative in principle. Israeli officials said the truce would include an immediate ceasefire, then a withdrawal of IDF troops, followed by Egypt preventing arms from being smuggled into the Gaza Strip. The measures would be followed by a possible opening of border crossings.
However Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev said Hamas’ actions made a cease fire difficult. Shalev told the U.N. Security Council Wednesday, January 14, that “Hamas’ attacks are very discriminate – directed deliberately at civilians – men, women and children. These attacks kill and maim Israelis, creating a living nightmare; a nightmare that forced Israel to act in self-defense.”
Israeli officials also say Hamas hides weapons and explosives in mosques and uses minarets to launch attacks. “What kind of person, we must ask, uses a house of prayer as a weapons depot? The answer, Mr. President is: Hamas terrorists,” the ambassador said.
Israel claims that Hamas commanders and leaders have also set up shop in the basement of Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa. Hamas fighters and members reportedly entered hospitals and donned doctors’ coats in an effort to blend into the civilians of Gaza.
However it was difficult for foreign reporters to independently confirm these developments as Israel either stopped, or put severe restrictions on journalists wanting to cover the events in the Gaza Strip.
MORE HUMANITARIAN AID
Israel also said it facilitated the movement of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, but claims over 800 trucks totaling over 25,000 tons of aid have been seized by militants.
“Israel has extended a pause in the fighting for an additional hour starting today” to allow more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, the Israel Foreign said in a statement, monitored by Worthy News.
But there has been mounting international pressure on Israel to end the offensive, as the death toll continues to rise.
Venezuela confirmed Thursday, January 16, it cut all ties with Israel to protest against the military operation. “This time, the Israeli government’s despicable behavior has resulted in 19 days of continuous bombing, killing more than 1,000 people and devastated the infrastructure of the population of Gaza, a humanitarian disaster is unfolding before the eyes of world,” Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said.
Echoing Venezuela’s sentiments, Bolivia’s Socialist President Evo Morales condemned Israel and said that Israel attacks “seriously threaten world peace.” He also said on bringing top Israeli officials on charges of genocide to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands.
Yet, an opinion poll released Wednesday, January 15, claimed a whopping 94 percent of Israeli Jews “support” or “strongly support” the offensive in Gaza.
However, in the same poll, 85 percent of Israeli Arabs oppose the Israeli action. The telephone poll was conducted between January 4-6 among 593 respondents and had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.