Israel accused of war crimes as it threatens ground invasion of Gaza

Israel threatened a ground invasion of Gaza yesterday after a pregnant woman and baby were killed during the pounding of the besieged Palestinian enclave which started on Saturday.

Seba Abu Arar was just 14 months old and died after her home east of Gaza City was struck by an Israeli missile, which Tel Aviv claimed was a response to rockets fired at Israel on Friday.

Israeli aggression has intensified with at least 11 Palestinians killed and 47 wounded in the Gaza Strip as a result of the strikes.

Clashes started after four Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire during weekly demonstrations at the Gaza Strip’s illegally erected border fence. Two Israeli soldiers were also wounded. Rockets launched in response by Palestinian groups over the weekend killed three Israelis.

Israel is currently under investigation for war crimes after at least 190 unarmed Palestinians were shot dead during the 2018 Great March of Return protests in Gaza, which also left thousands injured.

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said yesterday that the seventh brigade of the army had been deployed to the border of the Gaza Strip “on standby for an offensive mission.”

The Palestinian government called for the United Nations to intervene and stop the Israeli assault.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said it had launched missiles at more than 260 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip. But the Palestinian government warned against an escalation of violence and condemned the targeting of civilians.

The latest hostilities were the first since the Israeli elections last month which saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu return for a record fifth term of office.

Mr Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to “continue its massive strikes on terror elements in the Gaza Strip.”

The fragile Egypt-brokered ceasefire appears to have shattered again with Islamic Jihad saying its rocket attack was a response to the Israeli attacks on Friday.

Israel was condemned for using “excessive force” by Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor spokeswoman Sarah Pritchett.

She said the targeting of infrastructure was “a clear disregard to all international treaties guaranteeing the protection of civilians in times of armed conflict.”

The Israeli army’s collective punishment policy through its blockade of Gaza “clearly represent war crimes under the Rome Statute,” Ms Pritchett said, calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

More than two million people live in the Gaza Strip which has been under an Israeli-imposed blockade for 12 years.

The General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions (PGFTU) warned in January that poverty levels in Gaza had risen to over 80 per cent with unemployment at 55 per cent.

Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi warned: “Israel has turned Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world, choking life and hope out of the besieged and occupied territory while indiscriminately bombarding heavily populated civilian areas.”

She claimed that Mr Netanyahu was using the bombing as “a cynical attempt to inflict pain on and terrorise the captive Palestinians of Gaza for political gains during his coalition negotiations.”

“Targeting defenceless civilians is criminal and morally reprehensible and must be condemned unequivocally.”

The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) joined calls for the international community to step in and “provide international protection for the Palestinian people and to act to stop this unjust Israeli aggression.”

UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov called for an immediate ceasefire.

“Continuing down the current path of escalation will quickly undo what has been achieved and destroy the chances for long term solutions to the crisis,” he said. “This endless cycle of violence must end, and efforts must accelerate to realise a political solution to the crisis in Gaza.”

However, Islamic Jihad spokesman Mosab Al Braim warned that Palestinians were prepared to stand up to the Israeli war machine.

“The resistance is on the verge of a new level in facing aggression; a level that could lead to open war,” he said.

“It will hurt the enemy like our people are hurting.”

Hamas spokesman Abdel-Latif al-Qanoua said on Saturday: “The resistance will continue to respond to the crimes by the occupation and it will not allow it to shed the blood of our people.”

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