16e2f295-2551-448c-aa8c-68df16b5193c.jpgUpdate 1:29 EST – Ha’aretz

Israel launches ground operation in Gaza Strip

Update #2 -Jerusalem Post:

The IDF said that a large amount of Armored Corps, Engineering Corps and Infantry troops entered the territory with the purpose of destroying Hamas infrastructure and preventing rocket fire by taking control of launching pads in northern Gaza.

The IDF warned that terrorists using civilians as human shields would bear full responsibility for their fate.  

Israeli forces may have begun the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. AFP and more are reporting that Israel has begun heavy shelling of the northern sections of Gaza and there are unconfirmed reports that the tanks are rolling. CNN reported an hour ago that Israel was warning Gazans to leave their homes and the northern sectors of the Strip:

Leaflets signed by the commander of the Israeli military were dropped over northern Gaza on Saturday morning, warning residents to "leave the area immediately" to ensure their safety.

Amidst appeals from the UN and protests around the world calling for a cease fire, the White House signalled it’s ok for a ground invasion.

The Israeli press has reported that the mission was approved as a short but major operation. Some idea of the actual Israeli plans may be seen in this translation from Missing Links of an Israeli Channel Two report from March 2008 following a visit from Condi Rice:

…Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has gotten the green light from the Security and Political Council of Ministers, which met yesterday to decide how to end the problem of the Qassam rockets, to initiate implementation of the new plan aimed an ending the problem of the Palestinian Qassam rockets aimed at southern Israel.

The televised report cited high-level security sources as saying Barak intends to plan for the removal of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the northern Gaza Strip, namely from the region that the resistance uses for the launch of these rockets, and to move them toward Gaza City and to confine them there. The Israeli reporter added that Barak is turning to legal advisers in the Defence Ministry, in order to obtain legal authorization for the removal of the Palestinian civilians…

The reporter said that once [or if] the plan becomes operational, it would start immediately: In the first stage there would be a drop of leaflets advising residents to leave their homes, in addition to special radio announcements in Arabic directed to the residents, and in the event residents didn’t obey the warnings, the occupation army would begin bombing the inhabited areas, in order to compel them to leave their homes and go to Gaza City.

The Council [of Ministers], which met yesterday after the departure of the American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, stressed that they did not agree with previous army planning for [only] a partial end to the Qassam rockets. And the Council decided to target the leaders of Hamas, political and military alike, and to destroy every symbol of Hamas authority in the Gaza Strip.

This report was confirmed by the Jerusalem Post at that time (h/t markfromireland). We know, from reporting in Ha’aretz, that the Israeli leadership began planning for the current attacks before entering the Egyptian negotiated cease-fire which expired on December 19th and used the cease-fire as an opportunity to prepare. Add in two months of forced starvation for the people of Gaza which seems now to have been designed to weaken their resistance and it seems all too likely that what we are watching today is the culmination of those plans made back in March right after consultations with Condi Rice.

Such a plan would be a violation of the Geneva Convention (pdf) that "Parties to a conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Neither the civilian population as such nor civilian persons shall be the object of attack. Attacks shall be directed solely against military objectives."

Such a plan of forced evacuation would in fact be the very definition of ethnic cleansing:

The United Nations Commission of Experts, in a January 1993 report to the Security Council, defined “ethnic cleansing” as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.”

Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis (a must read in these times) points our that the Israel (and US?) plans may not go so smoothly however:

Muslim militiamen of the Hizbullah, Hamas, Jeish al-Mahdi, etc. varieties have a major advantage in fighting the Israelis. These Muslim fighters all believe in an afterlife in which they will be rewarded for their shihada, their testimony, their martyrdom in what they believe to be the path of God. If you do not think that they believe that, then you are truly clueless. There are not many Israeli Jewish soldiers who think the same thing. Some, but not many. This makes for a wildly disparate attitude towards casualties. In Lebanon the Hizbullahis wore body armor and dug in well. They did that because these men were valuable assets, not because they were not willing to "be all they could be."

"More difficult than many people anticipated." Really? Were Feith and Wolfowitz involved in the planning?

Meanwhile the casualty count in Gaza is already 425, possibly more. How many more before this ends?

(Special h/t to markfromireland for much help and pointers on international law)

Photo: IDF Merkave MK IV from wikipedia commons