Saturday, December 27, 2008

Israel launches air strikes on Gaza, 120 dead

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli aircraft struck Hamas security compounds across Gaza on Saturday in unprecedented waves of simultaneous attacks, and Hamas and medics reported dozens of people were killed.

The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion as black smoke rose above Gaza. Health Ministry official Moawiya Hassanain said at least 120 people were killed and more than 250 wounded. Officials said others were still buried under the rubble.

In one of the Hamas compounds, the bodies of more than a dozen uniformed security officers were seen lying on the ground. One survivor raised his index finger in a show of Muslim faith, uttering a prayer. Among the dead was the Gaza police chief, Maj. Gen. Tawfiq Jaber, witnesses said.

Hamas officials said all of Gaza's security compounds were destroyed. Hamas said it would seek revenge, including launching new rocket attacks on Israel and sending suicide bombers to Israel.

"Hamas will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, speaking on a Gaza radio station.

Israel confirmed it carried out a series of air strikes on Hamas installations but did not provide details. Israel has warned in recent days it would strike back hard against continued rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli border towns.

There was no sign of an Israel ground offensive accompanying the air attacks.

Israel urged its residents living near Gaza to seek refuge in secure locations in apparent anticipation of Hamas rocket fire.

The first round of air strikes came just before noon and several more waves followed.

Hamas security compounds are often located in civilian areas. The first air strikes took place as children were leaving school. Plumes of black smoke rose over Gaza City, sirens wailed through the streets and women frantically looked for their children.

One man sat in the middle of a Gaza City street, close to a security compound, alternately slapping his face and covering his head with dust from the bombed-out building. "My son is gone, my son is gone," wailed Sadi Masri, 57. The shopkeeper said he sent his son out to purchase cigarettes minutes before the airstrikes began and now could not find him. "May I burn like the cigarettes, may Israel burn," Masri moaned.

Civilians rushed to the targeted areas, trying to move the wounded in their cars to hospitals.

Television footage showed Gaza City hospitals crowded with people, civilians rushing in wounded people in cars, vans and ambulances. "We are treating people on the floor, in the corridors. We have no more space. We don't know who is here and what the priority is to treat," said one doctor who hung up the phone before identifying himself at Shifa Hosptial, Gaza's main treatment center.

In the West Bank, Hamas' rival, moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement that he "condemns this aggression" and calls for restraint, according to an aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh.

Israel has targeted Gaza in the past, but the number of simultaneous attacks was unprecedented.

No comments: