As Israel’s attack on Gaza intensifies, we are left with few ways to get direct information since Israel continues to refuse reporters permission to enter.
The invasion according to Defense Minister Ehud Barak "..won’t be easy and it won’t be short," and the amount of Israeli firepower – continued air strikes, tank fire and intensive artillery shelling – is massive.
Human Rights Watch has already warned of the extreme danger of the use of artillery in such a densely populated area:
Israel’s renewed use of artillery in Gaza poses an increased risk to civilians if the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) adopts the same reduced "safety zones" that resulted in many civilian casualties there in 2006, Human Rights Watch said today. The IDF had put a moratorium on the use of artillery in Gaza after an artillery attack on Beit Hanoun on November 8, 2006, killed 23 Palestinians and wounded 40, all of them civilians.
Laura Doty over at Oxdown asks Are Cluster Bombs Falling on Gaza Today? and quotes Sameh Habeeb of Gaza Today. In reviewing the footage starting to come out (CNN’s shows the same but is not yet online in embed format, this is from Italian tv, the same is seen in a Ha’retz tv video), we do see explosions in the air with multiple projectiles – you can see this in the video at right. I asked markfromireland, who is quite familiar with such weapons, if these are cluster bombs and he replied:
"Hard to tell exactly what shell they’re using but yes thats what they look like. If you’re asking is that what a cluster looks like then the answer is yes."
Each report we see and hear repeats, as I just did, the words “densely populated” and that repetition too easily jades us to the meaning behind those words. Gaza is packed with people – the majority under the age of 17.
It is hard to realize how very small the Gaza Strip is, "about 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and between 6 and 12 kilometers (4–7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 360 square kilometers (139 sq mi)."
To get a better sense of that density, look at this map
In such a small area, there is no place to run when air strikes, tanks and artillery hit at the level we are now seeing in the footage from CNN.
As a Gulf News story recounts:
One man from the Al Shata refugee camp received a phone call from an Israeli soldier urging him to leave the area because his home would shortly be shelled. He left for his brother’s home.
Three hours after the first phone call the man’s brother got a similar message – they both left for a new location.
Thousands of others left their homes after the start of the strikes and the psychological warfare, but many have now returned since all their "safe places" became targets.
From Ha’aretz we already see the cost of this invasion:
A family in Beit Lahiya said that an Israeli artillery shell had hit a house there, wounding many people. Ambulances could not immediately reach them because of the resulting fire, they said.
Meanwhile, Israel Air Force warplanes stepped up airstrikes on Gaza, bombing the main road that runs throughout the strip in three different spots, making travel from one side of the Strip to the other close to impossible.
Maan News reports that airstrikes have destroyed the American International School in Gaza City:
The American International School in Gaza (AISG) in Beit Lahiya was founded by Americans in 2001. An elite private institution, AISG stressed teaching English as a second language and instilling progressive, enlightened values in its students using an American curriculum.
“I have no idea what will happen to us,” said Rawan Al-Masri a first grade teacher at the K-12 school. “Where will the students study? Now there is nothing.”
The school, according to its website, has a mission to teach such ideals as “An understanding and appreciation of global interrelationships to face the opportunities and challenges of a constantly changing world,” and “Engage social consciousness,” is culturally distant from Hamas’ political Islam.
Explosions cracking in the background, Al-Masri expressed despair for the children at the school who have known only war. “They didn’t live their childhood,” she says.
“But they do know the difference between an F16 and an Apache,” explaining that Gazans of all ages have learned to differentiate between the sounds of the American-made jets and helicopters that have rained fire down on them. She says they have come to prefer the thump of helicopter blades, knowing that the supersonic jets will be less accurate with their missiles.
“It’s a disaster,” she adds, “Their target is now the civilians. They won’t finish until they kill all of us.”
AFP reports that the air strikes continue:
Thousands of Israeli troops and tanks had encircled Gaza as Howitzers lobbed shells across the border hours earlier. F-16 jets roared over the enclave where at least 460 people have been killed in eight days of attacks.
Gaza militants fired more rockets into Israel on Saturday, slightly wounding three people, and the exiled Hamas leader threatened a "black destiny" for Israel if it launched a ground invasion.
In one of the deadliest single strikes of the campaign so far, an Israeli jet fired at a mosque in the northern town of Jabaliya, killing at least 16 people among more than 200 people at prayer, medics and witnesses said.
Four children — two brothers aged 10 and 12 and two cousins under 16 — were among the dead at the Ibrahim al-Maqadna mosque, medics said.
Dozens of wounded were dragged from the rubble.
Sameh Habeeb from Gaza Today reports:
Breaking News: 4palestinians killed in Rafah City in Israeli bombings.
Breaking News: Israel bombing Al Uma University and hundreds of shell rain on all Gaza areas now.
Breaking News:heavy strikes across Rafah and many houses damaged.
Breaking News:Israeli tanks advanced some meters from Eretz crossing in the north.
Breaking News: Shells landed between civilians’ houses east of Gaza City, Toffah, shijaya and sha’f areas.