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Palestinians plunged into humanitarian crisis
Israel's bloody siege of Gaza

By Elizabeth Schulte | June 30, 2006 | Page 1

ISRAEL TIGHTENED its bloody siege of Gaza following the capture of an Israeli soldier in a raid on Israeli Defense Forces June 25.

Israeli forces launched an offensive into Gaza June 27 as Socialist Worker went to press, including a rocket attack on a power station, which cut off electricity and added to the suffering of Gazans enduring economic sanctions imposed by Israel earlier this year.

Israel said it was launching the attack in retaliation for the capture of the soldier--the first prisoner taken by the Palestinians since 1994. But in reality, this was a pretext for escalating military actions that had already begun.

Israel Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced, "We intend to respond to the incident this morning in a way in which all involved...understand that the price will be painful." Israeli cabinet members hinted that Hamas leaders--including Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Ismail Haniya--were potential assassination targets, according to Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper.

Groups said to have taken part in the kidnapping--the Popular Resistance Committees, a new group calling itself the "Army of Islam," and Hamas' military wing Iz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades--demanded that Israel release from prison all Palestinian women and men under the age of 18.

Prisoner support rallies took place June 27 in Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, Gaza and Rafah. The Nablus event featured armed Hamas activists for the first time in some 18 months. There are currently some 9,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

The Israeli government responded to the soldier's capture by first sealing off Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians were stranded on the Egyptian side of the border at the Rafah crossing, and the Egyptian government deployed 2,500 extra troops along the Gaza border to stop any chance of Palestinians fleeing if Israel invades.

All this comes after weeks of crushing Israeli violence against Palestinians.

On June 9, eight Palestinian civilians were killed and 40 wounded in a bloody massacre caused by Israeli artillery shells fired on a Gaza beach. In another attack June 20, an Israeli plane fired two Hell-Fire missiles into a crowded street in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. At least three children were killed; 14 civilians, including seven children, were maimed.

The attacks led the Hamas military wing to end the truce it declared in February 2005.

The Israeli government claims its attacks are a valid response to Palestinian militants firing homemade rockets at Israel. However, on June 23, the British Independent newspaper reported, "Almost three times as many Palestinian civilians have been killed in Gaza in the past nine days as Israeli civilians in Sderot killed by Qassam rockets in the past five years."

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert stated Israel's position clearly: "I am deeply sorry for the residents of Gaza, but the lives, security and well-being of the residents of Sderot is even more important."

Tell this to Walid al-Houdaly, a political organizer who was jailed for 12 years and now lives in Ramallah.

"There is one soldier, but there have been hundreds of Palestinians kidnapped from their houses," said Houdaly, whose wife Ataf was dragged from their home by Israeli soldiers for heading up a women's organization that provided health services for poor Palestinians, in an interview with BBC News. "If the world protests about the kidnapping of one soldier, why don't they protest about the Palestinians that have been kidnapped in the last 10 years."

To this daily violence, harassment and humiliation that Palestinians in Gaza endure, add the misery of living without numerous basic necessities. Half the population of Gaza is not getting enough to eat, according to World Food Program spokesperson Kirstie Campbell.

And, as a result of sanctions imposed on the PA by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union after the election of Hamas in January, the number of Palestinian families who live below the poverty level--$2.70 per person per day--has increased by 9 percent already, according to a recent United Nations report.

In response to the kidnapping, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told Prime Minister Haniyeh that Hamas must bear responsibility for the kidnapped soldier--and the bloody Israeli attack that was likely to follow.

In the run-up to the attack on Gaza, Abbas' Fatah party pushed Hamas to sign an agreement recognizing the Israeli state and renouncing resistance. On June 27, it was announced that Hamas leaders had agreed to sign the agreement, but that they had not changed their stance on the illegitimacy of the Israeli state.

With this agreement, Abbas hoped to prove to the West that Hamas would "surrender to reality" and prove its commitment to "peace," so that sanctions would be lifted and aid restored to the PA. But with Israeli tanks plowing through Gaza, no agreement will be enough to stop Israeli's aim of starving the Palestinians.

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