More than 230 Palestinians were killed and several hundred others injured Saturday when Israeli warplanes and combat helicopters carried out massive aerial bombing attacks targeting numerous police and security-related buildings throughout the Gaza Strip. The intensity of the bombing, say Gaza citizens, were unprecedented in living memory.
Palestinian officials and spokespersons in both Gaza and the West Bank used epithets such “carnage,” “massacres,” and “war of extermination” to describe the deadly Israeli raids.
The attacks began around noon Saturday during the rush hour when as many as a hundred F-16 war planes and attack helicopters launched air-to-ground missiles on numerous buildings in the Gaza Strip, causing widespread death and destruction.
The Palestinians, both in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, are firmly under Israeli military occupation and have no army or air-force and can barely put up a token resistance to the Israeli occupation army, one of the largest in the world.
Israeli War Minister Ehud Barak threatened to broaden and deepen the scope of the bombings in Gaza “if necessary.” He blamed Hamas for the rampant bombings, saying that Israel had the right to defend and protect its citizens.
Like other Israeli officials, Barak ignored the 2-year-old Nazi-like blockade of the Gaza Strip which pushed the 1.5 million Palestinian in the coastal enclave to the edge of a humanitarian catastrophe. Israeli commentators described the aerial blitz as representing the Israeli version of “shock and awe.”
Targeting police facilities
The targets of the massive aerial bombings were mostly police stations and headquarters of law-enforcing agencies.
One of the deadliest raid targeted a police graduation ceremony in downtown Gaza, killing and maiming dozens of cadets. The fact that the graduation ceremony had been allowed to proceed as scheduled may indicate that Hamas was taken by surprise.
Black smoke was bellowing from as many as 30 buildings targeted by the Israeli air force as headless bodies were strewn around the bombed buildings. Some of the bombed facilities were later bombed again, apparently to wreak more death on civilian and rescue teams.
Rescue sources said that the death toll as of 6:00 pm Saturday reached 210 with more than 450 people injured, some quite badly. The same sources said the number of casualties was likely to rise as additional victims were still buried under the rubble and unaccounted for.
Among the martyrs were Gaza police chief Tawfiq Jabbre and Ismael Ja’abari, a local security chief. Muawiya Hasanin, Chief of public hospitals in Gaza, described the raids as “a real massacre”:
“This is a real massacre, it is a war of extermination, carried out by Israel against the defenseless Palestinian masses.”
Hasanin said 200 people were killed and as many as 300 others were injured. According to Hasanin, 70 of the martyrs were badly burned and mutilated beyond recognition.
He added that some of the victims were still buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings. Hasanin said that 120 people injured in the bombings were in serious to critical condition.
He called on friendly states and organizations to extend urgently-needed medical assistance to save lives.
“This carnage is bigger than our limited means. We are doing our best to deal with this unprecedented situation.”
Many of the victims were hastily buried because Gaza hospital morgues were filled to capacity.
Palestinians in the Occupied territories and in Israel reacted angrily to the wanton killings in the Gaza Strip.
A three-day period of national mourning was announced in the West Bank.
More over, thousands of people took to the streets, demanding immediate stoppage of the Zionist aggression and calling for the immediate restoration of Palestinian national unity.
In al-Khalil (Hebron) in the southern West Bank, hundreds of youths hurled stones on Israeli occupation soldiers at the Bab el Zawiya neighborhood.
Several boys were reportedly injured by rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades.
Similarly, hundreds of youngsters hurled stones at an Israeli army outpost north of Ramallah. A number of boys were also reported injured by rubber bullets.
Palestinian security forces dispersed the protesters before returning to their nearby barracks.
At the official level, while most PA officials condemned the “criminal onslaught,” at least publicly, some PA leaders voiced a certain degree of satisfaction at the devastating raids on Gaza. Al Tayeb Abdul Rahim, a leading aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called on “Fatah supporters in Gaza to show more patience and steadfastness.”
“We promise you that the Palestinian legitimacy will return soon to Gaza,” Abdul Rahim said during an interview with the Fatah-run Palestine TV.
Moreover, the Fatah organization sent a circular to its regional chapters asking them to refrain from showing any sign of public gloating over the Israeli bombing in Gaza.
Egyptian regime stands accused
Meanwhile, Hamas officials have accused the Egyptian leadership of colluding with Israel against the movement.
Fawzi Barhum, a prominent Hamas official, revealed that Egypt had informed Hamas that Israel wouldn’t attack Gaza, adding that the “criminal onslaught” wouldn’t have taken place without a clear collusion with Israel by “certain regional players.”
“Today we pay the price of the Arab collusion with Israel. These massacres wouldn’t have occurred had it not been for official Arab silence and European and American acquiescence with Israel.
Egyptian officials sought to fend off criticisms, arguing that Egypt sought but failed to stop the Israeli aggression.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Egypt had asked Hamas to take precautionary measures but apparently failed to do so.
Arab commentators were particularly infuriated by the failure of Abul Gheit to challenge the bellicose remarks uttered by visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Cairo on Thursday.
Livni said during a joint press conference with Abul Gheit that Israel would destroy Hamas and change the reality in Gaza.
However, Abul Gheit remained silent, refusing to challenge the Israeli minister.
The Tunis-based Fatah leader Faruk al Qaddumi described the Israeli onslaught on Gaza as “a Nazi-like aggression.”
“This is not the first massacre and certainly won’t be the last. We are talking about a state that doesn’t believe in peace and doesn’t believe in negotiations. It is a state that follows a racist and Nazi-like policy based on physical extermination and ethnic cleansing.
“We say to the United States and Europe, this Nazi entity is anti-peace and anti-humanity. There can be no peace with these barbarians,” said Qaddumi in an interview with the al-Jazeera Tv.
Several Arab commentators accused Egypt and the American-backed Palestinian authority of having tacitly encouraged Israel to carry out the bombing campaign against Hamas in the hope that this would eventually allow the Israeli-backed Fatah organization to re-conquer the Gaza Strip.
The death toll of “Black Saturday” is the highest Palestinians have incurred since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.