Israel strikes media buildings; 10 civilians killed in separate blast

By Ernesto Londoño, Karin Brulliard and Abigail Hauslohner, Washington Post
Posted Nov. 18, 2012, at 7:17 p.m.

TEL AVIV — The Israeli military struck two buildings used by journalists in Gaza early Sunday during the fifth day of a campaign against militants in the Palestinian enclave. Hours later, artillery rounds landed in southern Israeli cities and the country’s missile defense system intercepted a powerful long-range rocket over Tel Aviv, the second such incident in as many days.

Sunday’s strikes in Gaza suggested Israel is continuing to expand its range of targets after hitting almost exclusively military sites during the first few days of the operation, dubbed Pillar of Defense. On Saturday, an Israeli bomb demolished the office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The crossfire dimmed hopes for a cease-fire as Arab leaders led by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi were set to convene in Cairo on Sunday to discuss a negotiated end to the conflict.

“We are extracting a heavy price from Hamas and the terror organizations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday during the opening session of the weekly cabinet meeting. “The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation.”

At least 10 members of a family, including four children, were killed in an Israeli airstrike Sunday afternoon in Gaza, marking the single deadliest strike since the fighting began.

“They killed the whole family,” Yasser Sallouha, an uncle of the children said, looking despondent as he stood near their bodies at the morgue. “The whole family tree is gone.”

The sites hit in Gaza early Sunday included buildings used by Britain’s Sky News channel and the Dubai-based pan-Arab broadcaster al-Arabiya, the news organizations reported. At least six journalists were wounded, according to a health ministry spokesman in Gaza quoted by wire services.

One of the buildings was used by al-Quds channel, which serves as a mouthpiece for Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. The Foreign Press Association in Israel issued a letter expressing concern and noting that a United Nations Security Council resolution says that journalists covering conflict civilians that must be protected.

The Israeli military said the sites struck overnight included a “communications antenna used by Hamas to carry out terrorist activity.” In a statement, it said it also hit dozens of underground rocket launchers and a Hamas training base.

Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman said Sunday that the media buildings struck included key Hamas communication infrastructure.

“The target was not journalists,” she told reporters in Jerusalem. “The journalists in these buildings were serving as human shields for Hamas.”

Leibovich said the prospect of a ground operation remains “on the table,” but that the country’s leaders have not yet decided whether to deploy troops into Gaza.

A nighttime lull in rocket fire from Gaza ended shortly after 8 a.m. as rockets landed in Ashkelon and Eshkol, southern Israeli cities. Around 10:30 a.m., the artillery warning siren in Tel Aviv rang out seconds before a long-range rocket was blasted overhead by the country’s anti-missile system, known as Iron Dome. Local media reported that a vehicle struck by debris caught fire.

At the start of a three-day trip to Southeast Asia, President Obama said at a news conference in Bangkok on Sunday that Israel has a right to defend itself.

“There’s no country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside it’s borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

But, the president added, “we are actively working with all the parties in the region to see if we can end those missiles being fired without further escalation of violence in the region.”

Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip expanded to target Hamas government buildings on Saturday. Palestinian militants continued firing a torrent of rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel as both sides stepped up diplomatic efforts to win support.

Israeli airstrikes over Gaza accelerated to nearly 200 early in the day, including one hit that reduced the offices of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to a smoldering concrete heap. That strike, along with others on a police headquarters and smuggling tunnels along the strip’s southern border with Egypt, raised questions about whether Israel had broadened its mission to including toppling the Hamas government that rules the coastal strip.

Just before sundown on Saturday, Hamas said it had fired an Iranian-made Fajr-5 rocket at Tel Aviv, and air raid sirens sounded in that city for the third day in a row. The Israeli military said its newly deployed missile defense battery intercepted the rocket before it landed in the populous coastal city.

In Cairo, the Arab League held an emergency meeting of foreign ministers to discuss a response to the conflict. Many participants called for Arab assistance to the Palestinians and a “reconsideration” of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. But it was unclear if the usually ineffectual league would deliver decisive action by the end of its summit.

The death toll in Gaza rose to 45 by Saturday evening, Health Ministry officials said. Three Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza since the operation began. An Israeli military spokesman said about 130 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel on Saturday, 30 of which were intercepted by a missile defense system known as Iron Dome.

Israel made preparations this week for a possible ground invasion, but there were no further signs of one coming on Sunday.

The Israeli airstrikes, which continued to target rocket-launching sites and weapons depots, slowed throughout the day, even as Israel appeared to be channeling new efforts toward Hamas civilian institutions. According to the newspaper Haaretz, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the “goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

That is how it felt to Hossam and Sanaa al-Dadah, two teachers who had the misfortune of living next door to a house the Israeli military said belonged to a Hamas commander.

At 6 a.m., the family’s windows shattered and their walls burst open. The adjacent house, in the Jabaliya refugee camp, had been demolished in an airstrike, and suddenly theirs was ruined, too.

In the terrifying moments that followed, Hossam al-Dadah, 50, frantically dug his five children out of the rubble, and a few hours later, they had been taken away to their grandparents’ home. But a dust-caked Sanaa, 40, rushed from room to room, crying and gathering her children’s clothing, school bags and dolls and placing them on a sheet.

Israel says Hamas operates in populated areas to use civilians as human shields, and it has dropped thousands of leaflets over Gaza warning civilians to stay away from Hamas operatives. Sanaa said she never got the message.

“Where are we going to go?” she said again and again. “The Israelis are responsible. They are the enemy of God. What did we do? Did we carry any missiles? Did we launch any rockets?”

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/11/18/news/world-news/israel-strikes-media-buildings-10-civilians-killed-in-separate-blast/ printed on July 29, 2014