Just hours after Israeli President Shimon Peres insisted his nation had no plans to ignite a war in the Gaza Strip and urged Arab nations to appoint “peace envoys” for the crisis, the Israeli military launched an unprecedented attack on the Gaza Strip.
The attack, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead” by the Israeli military after a Hanukkah poem, targeted police stations across the strip, killing Hamas security officials (reportedly including police chief Major-General Tawfik Jaber) and nearby civilians. The toll at present count was 230 killed and 700 wounded, according to a Hamas spokesman.
The attacks are expected to continue, with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowing “the operation will last as long as necessary” and promising to widen the campaign from its already enormous scale. Barak labeled the police stations hit “terrorism infrastructure” and claimed that over 150 of those killed were Hamas militants.
Hamas remained defiant after the killings, insisting “all options are open” for retaliation against Israel. Palestinian protesters staged demonstrations against the attacks in the West Bank, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for “this aggression to stop immediately.” There are also reports of protests from Arabs inside Israel. Hamas fired at least 25 rockets in retaliation for the attacks, killing one Israeli civilian and wounding four others.
President Hosni Mubarak also hit out at the “Israeli military aggression.” In response to the massive casualties in a strip virtually bereft of medicine after months of lockdown, the Egyptian government has opened the Rafah border crossing to allow the wounded in for medical treatment.
The United States condemned Hamas in the wake of the attacks, but declined to criticize the Israeli strikes. They did, however, encourage Israel to avoid civilian casualties, a difficult matter in the densely populated strip. Israel has said they will mount an “emergency international public relations campaign” to gain international support for the attack.