Israel steps up Gaza pressure, Abbas tells Hamas ‘I told you so’

Israel steps up Gaza operation

(JTA) – Israel bombed smugglers’ tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border as part of its wide-ranging operation against Hamas in Gaza.

The airstrike Sunday, which reportedly destroyed some 40 arms-smuggling tunnels, prompted hundreds of Gazans to breach the border with Egypt. Egyptian forces reportedly opened fire on the Palestinians to keep them from entering Egyptian territory.

Also Sunday, Israel’s Cabinet agreed call up some 6,700 army reservists, as tanks and troops began moving to the Gaza area in advance of a possible ground attack. The decision came as Defense Minister Ehud Barak allowed humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip from Israel even as Israel continued to bomb Hamas targets in the strip.

More than 280 people have been reported killed in Israel’s operation in Gaza, which was launched in response to intense Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel in the days since an informal six-month truce between Israel and Hamas expired. Some civilians were among the casualties, but most of those killed were reported to be Hamas security forces.

Hamas forces kept up their rocket fire on Israeli communities on Sunday, launching several long-range missiles at the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod. Hundreds of thousands of residents of southern Israel were urged to take shelter in their homes or in nearby bomb shelters.

Protests against Israel’s operation broke out in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and in Israeli Arab towns inside Israel. In the West Bank village of Na’alin, where there are weekly protests against Israel’s West Bank security fence, one protester was reported killed by live fire. The army said it is investigating why soldiers used live ammunition instead of rubber bullets for crowd control. In Israel proper, police clashed with violent protesters in Israeli Arab towns in the Galilee.

“There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting,” Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, said after the operation was launched.

Abbas: Hamas could have prevented attack

(JTA) — Hamas could have prevented Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday.

The Palestinian Authority president also called on Hamas to renew its cease-fire with Israel.

“We spoke to them and told them, ‘Please, we ask you not to end the cease-fire. Let it continue,'” Abbas said during a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “We want to protect the Gaza Strip. We don’t want it to be destroyed.”

Abbas also called the continuing rocket attacks on Israel “acts of foolishness.”

Israel’s assault on Hamas targets began Saturday afternoon. More than 280 Palestinians have been killed in the operation so far.

Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah said Saturday that Abbas’ Fatah Party, which rules the West Bank, was prepared to assume control of Gaza if Israel topples the Hamas regime there.

Protesters condemn Israel’s Gaza operation

(JTA) — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Arab and European countries to protest Israel’s operation in Gaza.

Rallies condeming Israel’s operation in Gaza were held Sunday in countries including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, as well as in London.  In Mosul, Iraq, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of more than 1,000 demonstrators.

More than 50,000 protested in cities throughout Egypt, according to the BBC. Demonstrators in Dubai protested in front of the Palestinian consulate.

Police in London arrested three protesters at a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy after riot police were called in to restore order, according to reports.