It was December 27 when Israel launched its first wave of air and missile attacks on targets across Gaza. Initially Hamas police compounds bore the brunt of the shelling. But if 2008 ended on a violent note, the night of January 3 2009 saw the start of Israel’s ground offensive, which took the fighting to a new level.
Its troops entered northern Gaza, as heavy clashes forced hundreds of people to head further into the centre of Gaza City to escape the fighting. The continued shelling started to take its toll on the enclave’s infrastructure. Just three days later, civilian casualties escalated after Israeli artillery shells landed near a UN-run school – 40 people were killed including many children. To counter international anger, Israel claimed it was responding to firing coming from the school, accusing Hamas of using its own people as human shields. The shelling continued but Israel insisted it was aiming missiles at the smuggling tunnels along which Hamas was getting its weapons. Palestinian medical staff were by now working under increasingly difficult conditions. Accusations began claiming that banned shells containing white phosphorous. This was countered by Israel saying only munitions allowed by international law were being fired. During the offensive three prominent members of the Hamas movement were killed, one of them top Hamas leader Said Siyam, described as a moderate within the organisation. It was to stop regular rocket attacks by Hamas on southern Israel that launched the hostilities in the first place. Over the three weeks, Hamas attacks killed three Israeli civilians while ten Israeli soldiers also died. The question remains, will their losses and the disproportionate number of Palestinian deaths mean Israel has really achieved its own security?