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Gaza Massacres ( 27 December 2008 - )

Key Events

The current scene of bombed-out neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip resembles the destruction

Israel wrought in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

Gaza massacres (27 December 2008 - )

The death toll stood at more than 350 Palestinians, with hundreds more injured, at the close of a third day of carnage in the besieged Gaza Strip where Israeli shelling from the air and sea continued into the night. According to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the majority of the casualties were non-combatants and civilians.

Ongoing coverage

The dead include police officers who were attending a graduation ceremony, school children heading home after a day of study, and other Gazans killed without warning as they were conducting their normal business. The death toll will most likely rise as corpses are recovered from the rubble of destroyed buildings and the critically injured die of their wounds. Many will likely die because Gaza's hospitals -- already chronically short of medicines and supplies due to the Israeli siege -- are unable to cope with the scale of the catastrophe.

In Israel, where the fate of the Gaza Strip has become part of politicking as the country gears up for an election, leaders blamed Hamas for the carnage and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert cynically appealed, "to the people of Gaza, you are not our enemy." While the other three members of the so-called International Quartet for Middle East Peace criticized what they called Israel's "excessive" use of force, the US refrained from doing so. White House spokesperson Gordon Johndroe stated from Texas, where President George W. Bush was presently vacationing: "Hamas' continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop."

The day's rising death toll was the highest in the territory since it was occupied by Israel during the 1967 War. Although Israel unilaterally withdrew its illegal settler population from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it remained the occupying power as it controlled the borders, sea and airspace, as well as the population registry, and regularly carried out sonic booms over the area, terrorizing the population. Israeli forces have also frequently carried out extrajudicial executions of Palestinian activists in Gaza, killing scores of bystanders as well.

Gaza hospitals were unable to cope with the situation as Israel's closure of the Gaza Strip for a year and a half has prevented the importing of medical supplies and equipment. As the morgues filled to capacity, corpses lined the hallways of Gaza hospitals. Hospitals were forced to turn away many of the injured due to the lack of space and supplies.

The massive air strikes came after a food crisis broke out in Gaza, as Israel's banning of imports into the Strip have depleted stocks of flour and cooking gas, causing some bakeries -- the few still in operation -- to resort to baking bread made out of animal feed. On 18 December, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) was forced to stop its food aid delivery to 750,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip.

These measures of collective punishment are resulting in "the breakdown of an entire society," according to economist Sara Roy, who asks in a commentary published recently by The London Review of Books, "How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel?"

The devastating attack on Gaza was described as "willful killing" by leading Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations, and therefore constitute "a war crime." The organizations stated: "Both the time and location of these attacks also indicate a malicious intent to inflict as many casualties as possible with many of the police stations located in civilian population centers and the time of the attacks coinciding with the end of the school day resulting in the deaths of numerous children."

The assault was met with loud calls for a boycott of Israel, including a boycott appeal from by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, which stated on the day of the massacres: "Israel seems intent to mark the end of its 60th year of existence the same way it has established itself -- perpetrating massacres against the Palestinian people. In 1948, the majority of the indigenous Palestinian people were ethnically cleansed from their homes and land, partly through massacres like Deir Yassin; today, the Palestinians in Gaza, most of whom are refugees, do not even have the choice to seek refuge elsewhere. Incarcerated behind ghetto walls and brought to the brink of starvation by the siege, they are easy targets for Israel's indiscriminate bombing."

Palestinian firemen try to extinguish a fire following an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 27 December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

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