Posts Tagged ‘death toll’

Michael Schwartz: Will Iraq’s Oil Ever Flow?

February 3, 2010
Michael Schwartz , TomDispatch.com,February 3, 2010

Americans have largely stopped thinking about Iraq, even though we still have approximately 110,000 troops there, as well as the largest “embassy” on the planet (and still growing).  We’ve generally chalked up our war in Iraq to the failed past, and some Americans, after the surge of 2007, even think of it as, if not a success, at least no longer a debacle.  Few care to spend much time considering the catastrophe we actually brought down on the Iraqis in “liberating” them.

Continues >>

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Death toll in Uighur crackdown rockets to 140 and rising

July 6, 2009

Times Online/UK, July 6, 2009

A video grab from CCTV shows people turning over a police car in Urumqi, Xinjiang Autonomous Region

(Reuters/CCTV via Reuters TV )

A video grab from CCTV shows people turning over a police car in Urumqi, capital of China’s Xinjiang region where the ethnic unrest occurred on the weekend

Image :1 of 3
Jane Macartney, China Correspondent


In the deadliest social unrest in China since the Tiananmen Square crackdown, 140 people have been killed and more than 800 wounded in riots that rocked the city of Urumqi at the weekend.

Running battles raged through the streets of the city throughout Sunday, pitting members of the Uighur minority against ethnic Han Chinese. Witnesses said that up to 3,000 rioters went on the rampage, smashing buses and overturning police barricades during several hours of violence.

Continued >>

UN chief knew Tamil civilian toll had reached 20,000

May 30, 2009

The Times/UK, May 30, 2009

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

The top aide to the United Nations Secretary-General was told more than a week ago that at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the Sri Lankan Government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month, The Times can reveal.

UN officials told Vijar Nambiar, Ban Ki Moon’s chief of staff, that their figures indicated a likely final death toll of more than 20,000, during a briefing in preparation for Mr Ban’s visit to the region on May 23.

Two staff present at the meeting confirmed the exchange to The Times but Mr Ban never mentioned the death toll during his tour of the battleground, which he described as the “most appalling scene” he had witnessed in his long international career.

The casualty figure, revealed by The Times yesterday, triggered an international furore, with the Sri Lankan authorities denying the report and human rights groups demanding an investigation into possible war crimes.

Lakshman Hulugalle, a Defence Ministry spokesman, said: “These figures are way out . . . What we think is that these images are also fake. We totally deny the allegation that 20,000 people were killed.”

But, internationally, calls have been growing for an independent war crimes investigations on both sides and for access by humanitarian groups to the war zone and the 270,000 Tamil civilians who are still being detained.

Amnesty International called on the UN to release the estimated figures to help to push for a war crimes inquiry. “The Timess investigation underscores the need for investigation and the UN should do everything it can to determine the truth about the ‘bloodbath’ that occurred in northeast Sri Lanka,” Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said.

“The Human Rights Council’s decision not to call for specific measures to protect Sri Lankans made a mockery of the council, but it does not mean the end of the international community’s responsibility to respond to this continuing crisis,” Mr Zarifi said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross made a rare public plea yesterday for access to the no-fire zone and internment camps in the region. “We haven’t been able to access the areas where most of these people would have fled from since the ending of the most recent fighting,” Florian Westphal, the Red Cross spokesman, told a briefing in Geneva.

The figure of 20,000 casualties was given to The Times by UN sources, who explained in detail how they arrived at that calculation.

Before this month’s bombardment made the recording of each individual death impossible, the figures had been collated from deaths reported by priests and doctors and added to a count of the bodies brought to medical points.

Of the total, the bodies collected accounted for only a fifth of all reported deaths. After the bombing intensified this month, the only numbers available were by a count of the bodies. The 20,000 figure is an extrapolation based on the actual body count.

The 20,000 figure has also been obtained by Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, which quoted UN sources as saying that the figure had not been made public to avoid a diplomatic storm. The figure of 7,000 deaths until the end of April, which was based on individually documented deaths and not estimates, was leaked by UN sources in Sri Lanka this month after internal anger over the secrecy surrounding them. UN satellite images documenting the bombing of medical facilities were also leaked from New York.

The UN Humanitarian Co-ordination Office said yesterday that the figures cited by The Times were based on “well-informed estimates” given in private briefings to member states to underscore its concern — including Britain and the United States.

“You have seen the figures that are mentioned. Obviously, what we have are well-informed estimates and not precise, verifiable numbers,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the humanitarian co-ordination office. “The point is the UN has not been shy about the scale of human suffering and civilian casualties. It has been ringing the alarm bells for a long time.”

The Afghan Tragedy Continues

May 18, 2009
Why do Afghans have a life expectancy of only 44 years?

by Abdul Malik Mujahid | CommonDreams.org, May 17, 2009

According to the CIA World Factbook, an Afghan’s life expectancy is merely 44 years.

That’s 20 to 30 years less than neighboring Pakistan and all other surrounding countries. It is just one result of the ongoing devastation in that country.

The war in Afghanistan did not start in 2001 with the US invasion. It began 30 years ago in December 1979, when the former Soviet Union invaded the country. The human toll of the conflict is staggering: more than a million Afghans have been killed and 3 million maimed.

Five million (one third of the pre-war population) were forced to leave their country and became refugees. There are still 3.1 million Afghan refugees today, making up 27 per cent of the global refugee population. Most of them live in Pakistan. Another two million Afghans were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, one out of two refugees in the world was an Afghan.

Most Afghans alive today have seen nothing but war.

Daily life in Afghanistan is miserable. Only six percent have electricity in a country which gets as cold as Chicago in winter. Even in Kabul, the country’s capital, electricity comes for only a few hours a day. Traditional wood heating is difficult since not much wood is left in Afghanistan after 30 years of wars and forest devastation. Over 1,000 people died because of cold weather last year.

“About two million state school students do not have access to safe drinking water and about 75 percent of these schools in Afghanistan do not have safe sanitation facilities”, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

There is no law and order in most of Afghanistan. Government barely exists in Kabul. Former warlords are the leaders. That is demonstrated by the fact that, “Afghanistan is the world’s largest cultivator and supplier of opium (93 percent of the global opiates market). According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2008 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.”  A British daily paper actually reported that “the four largest players in the heroin business are all senior members of the Afghan government.”

The Taliban, which has lost its legitimacy due to its brutality, are sometimes remembered by Afghans as those who brought peace to Afghanistan.  Women continue to be the number one victims of the country’s 30 years of warfare. According to Malalai Joya, an elected member of the Afghan Parliament and outspoken critic of warlords and war criminals in the government, “the propaganda to the world about liberating Afghanistan and women and fighting against terrorists are lies.” In her speech accepting a human rights award in London, she said:

Our nation is still living under the shadow of war, crimes and brutalities of the fundamentalists, and women are the primary and silent sacrifice of this situation. Justice doesn’t exist in Afghanistan. Every sector of life in Afghanistan today is a tragedy, from women’s rights to security, law and order and domination of a drug mafia.

Almost two generations of Afghan children have grown up seeing nothing but war, bombing, homelessness and hunger. They are an easy target for those who want to play Afghans against each other, through money, drugs and guns.Afghanistan was almost self-sufficient in food before the Soviet invasion in 1979. The leftist government had instituted many economic and social reforms. But the Soviets went in for the bait set up by the US to take revenge for the Vietnam War, as bragged about by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor.  That was the beginning of the Afghan tragedy 30 years ago. Since then, the country has not seen a day of peace except for the brief brutal peace of Taliban era.

America trained, financed and equipped Afghan refugees to become Mujahideen to kill the Communist Soviets. Along the way, we created a cadre of fighters, including Osama bin Laden. Then, we supported and financed the Taliban and now we are trying to kill them as well.

In seven years of US occupation of Afghanistan, the government of Hamid Karzai and American influence have remained limited to Kabul and a few other smaller areas. Now it is not just the Americans, NATO and Pakistan which are playing their cards, but India, Russia and Iran also have increased embassy staff and active participation in carving a realm of power in Afghanistan.

If the British Empire in the 19th century could not succeed in occupying Afghanistan despite close to a century of war on and off, and the Soviets failed to do the same during the twentieth century, we cannot win either. Isn’t it about time that we Americans in the 21st century rethink the “good war” in Afghanistan? After seven years of going nowhere, it is surely time for a new strategy.

Consider this: if the Soviets, with 120,000 troops at any given time (500,000 total) could not do it, how can we with only 60,000? An increase of 20,000 to 30,000 American soldiers is unlikely to achieve military defeat.

And the Soviet Union was just across the border from Afghanistan, not tens of thousands of miles away as America is.

In Iraq which is half of the size of Afghanistan, the U.S. had more than 150,000 troops plus 190,000 contractors, killing one million people and destroying the whole infrastructure of the country.

Afghanistan has 16 percent more people than Iraq. It has a far more challenging military environment because two-thirds of Afghanistan is mountainous terrain suitable for guerrilla warfare unlike the flat plains of Iraq.

Most Afghans have been raised accustomed to war and hardship during the last three decades, unlike the comparatively more urbanized Iraqis.

That is the reason the outgoing commander of NATO-ISAF, General Dan McNeill, publicly requested anywhere between 100,000 and 400,000 more troops for the fight in Afghanistan.

President Obama has been right to pursue diplomacy with countries like Iran and for extending a hand to the Muslim world. However, he is dangerously wrong for pursuing the military path in Afghanistan. It is one that will only exacerbate terrorism, as well as further destroy a nation crippled by thirty years of war. It will lead to the deaths of more American soldiers. And I have no doubt that it will further lower the life expectancy of Afghans, those who continue to suffer the most.

Abdul Malik Mujahid is a Pakistani-American. He is an Imam in Chicago, President of Sound Vision, and serves as the vice chair for a Council for a Parliament of World Religions.

Karzai Demands End to US Air Strikes

May 9, 2009

Record Toll of Farah Attack Renews Outrage Over Bombing Villages

by Jason Ditz | Antiwar.com, May 08, 2009

Ending his visit to the United States, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the United States end its air strikes in his country, saying that the rising death toll was infuriating the public. “We believe strongly that airstrikes are not an effective way of fighting terrorism, that airstrikes rather cause civilian casualties,” Karzai declared.

Karzai has long been at odds, first with the Bush Administration and now with the Obama Administraiton, about the policy of air strikes launched in Afghanistan. The issue really came to a head this week, however, after an air strike against two villages in Farah Provinces killed 147 civilians, nearly doubling the previous record for most civilians killed in a single attack.

President Obama has promised, as the previous administration so often did, to “be more careful” about not slaughtering hundreds of civilians with US air power. Yet less than nine months after officials were promising much the same policy changes when the Herat strike had killed 90 civilians, the most striking thing is how little has actually changed.

Afghanistan unrest kills more than 70: officials

March 21, 2009

KABUL (AFP) — A wave of clashes in Afghanistan killed more than 70 people, including 18 policemen and four Canadian soldiers Friday, officials said, amid alarm about the country’s mounting Taliban-led insurgency.

The growing unrest has led Washington to deploy 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, due in the coming weeks, in a move a NATO general said would trigger more violence but would help improve security in the longer run.

The four Canadians, part of the international assistance force, were killed in two separate explosions that also killed an interpreter and injured eight soldiers and an Afghan national, the Canadian military said.

The first incident happened at 6:45 am local time, Brigadier-General Jon Vance, the Canadian commander in Kandahar, said in an address televised in Canada from a base in southern Afghanistan.

“Two Canadian soldiers were killed and five wounded when an improvised explosive device detonated in the vicinity of their dismounted patrol in Zari district, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Kandahar City,” he said.

A local interpreter was also killed during this attack. Another Afghan national was injured.

The second blast occurred two hours later, killing two more Canadian soldiers and wounding three. Their vehicle struck a roadside bomb about 20 kilometres (12 miles) northeast of Kandahar City, said Vance.

Nine of the policemen were killed along with a district chief in a clash Friday with Taliban in the northern province of Jawzjan, an unusual battlefield for the extremists, who focus on southern and eastern Afghanistan.

“Today in a clash between Taliban and police, the district chief and nine police were killed,” provincial police chief Khalil Aminzada told AFP.

The fighting was in a district called Koshtipa, on the border with Turkmenistan, he said.

Nine other policemen were killed and three wounded in the southwestern province of Farah when a mob of Taliban attacked them, provincial governor Rohul Amin told AFP. Six of the attackers also died in the fighting, he said.

The clash followed fighting earlier in the day when Afghan and US-led troops were called in after intelligence was received of a plan to attack the governor’s home, Amin said. Seven Taliban were killed in that exchange, he said.

Elsewhere in Farah Friday, a suicide bomber blew up a bomb-filled police vehicle and killed one policeman and wounded two, the governor said. The vehicle had previously been stolen by the insurgents.

The deadliest fighting was on Thursday, when Afghan and US-led troops killed 30 militants in the flashpoint southern province of Helmand, in a district where a key anti-Taliban lawmaker was killed in a bomb attack the same day.

The Afghan army led a joint patrol into an area of Gereshk district where gunmen were known to operate and they came under attack, the US military said in a statement.

The “combined element returned fire with small-arms and close air support, killing 30 militants,” it added.

The toll was the highest from a single clash announced by the military in more than two months, with Afghanistan gearing up for another year of intense fighting after the winter.

The US military also announced Friday that six more alleged insurgents were killed in operations in Kunar, Logar and Helmand provinces.

The escalating conflict in a Taliban-led insurgency has caused concern among the international community trying to stabilise the war-torn nation.

US President Barack Obama has ordered 17,000 extra US troops for southern Afghanistan and a top-to-bottom review of his war policy, shifting the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Dutch commander Major General Mart de Kruif, who heads NATO troops in the south, said Friday that the arrival of more US troops would trigger a rise in violence but improve security in the longer run.

“I’m absolutely sure that we will see a very important year in RC (Regional Command) South, that we will see a spike in incidents once the US force hits the ground, but the situation will significantly change in a positive way within the next year,” Kruif told reporters by video link.

There are currently 75,000 international soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, about 38,000 of them Americans, to help Kabul fight the insurgency, which last year reached its deadliest point yet.

Copyright © 2009 AFP

US Drone Strike Kills At Least 15 in Pakistan

March 13, 2009

Four Missiles Hit ‘Residential Building’

Antiwar.com

posted March 12, 2009

Last Updated 3/12/09 9:45 PM EST

At least 15 people were killed today when four missiles fired from US drones hit a residential building in Barjo, Kurram Agency. Local officials characterized the building as a “militant hideout” and said it had been completely destroyed.

One security official said that those killed were “mainly Afghan Taliban,” and that the facility was run “by local Taliban commander Fazal Saeed and training was underway at the time of the strike.” Militants cordoned off the area and have been retrieving bodies from the rubble. Officials say no “high-value” targets were believed to be among those killed

It was the second major US attack on the Kurram Agency in less than a month: in mid-February an attack killed 31 people including an alleged commander named Bahram Khan Kochi. The Obama Administration was reported earlier this week to be planning a dramatic escalation of the number and intensity of the US strikes into Pakistan.

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compiled by Jason Ditz [email the author]

Death Toll Continues to Rise in Sri Lanka

March 2, 2009

The Associated Press, March 1, 2009

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – At least 10 Sri Lankan civilians were killed and dozens more wounded Sunday when artillery shells fell inside a government-designated “safe zone” in the heart of Tamil Tiger rebel territory, a health official said.

[Mumbai's Tamil community members hold placards during a protest rally in Mumbai, India, Sunday, March 1, 2009, demanding a cease-fire in Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)]Mumbai’s Tamil community members hold placards during a protest rally in Mumbai, India, Sunday, March 1, 2009, demanding a cease-fire in Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Government forces have driven the rebels from most of their strongholds in recent months and have boxed them into a tiny coastal territory in the northeast. A 7.5-mile (12-kilometer) -long “safe zone” serves as a haven for tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside rebel territory. Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah said six people died at a makeshift hospital inside rebel territory, and he saw four more bodies scattered among the huts of displaced people.

He said 48 wounded civilians were also admitted to the hospital, which he runs out of a school. Many of the victims suffered burns from the exploding shells, Varatharajah said.

It was unclear who fired the shells. Varatharajah said they appeared to have come from an area where government forces are stationed.

The military and rebels did not comment. Government officials have repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

Humanitarian groups estimate that 200,000 people are trapped in the fighting zone and face the risk of being caught in the crossfire.

Top United Nations humanitarian officials urged the rebels Friday to allow civilians to flee the fighting, saying there are “credible reports” that some people trying to leave have been shot.

Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic majority Sinhalese.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.

Reasons for War?

January 25, 2009

Livni’s Bombs

By Saul Landau | Counterpunch, January 23 / 25, 2009

On January 18, Israel and Hamas agreed to a weeklong cease-fire. Prime Minister Olmert declared Israel had achieved its objectives. “Hamas was hit hard, in its military arms and in its government institutions. Its leaders are in hiding and many of its men have been killed,” said Olmert.

More than 1,100 [1,300] Palestinians lay dead, more than a third women and children, countless more wounded and Gaza’s physical infrastructure destroyed or badly damaged. 13 Israelis died. Hamas still rules Gaza – from within, but has no control of its borders – and presumably can still smuggle weapons in from Egypt.

The truce is beyond shaky as President Obama takes office with an unqualified “I support Israel” policy and a core of Israeli kiss asses for advisers (Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk as examples).

The world witnessed another stupid and lopsided war in which Israel delivered deadly round of rockets and bombs into civilian neighborhoods in Gaza. As people shook their heads in disgust and bewilderment, NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained the two possibilities: “If Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to educate Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.”

A small price to pay — 1,400 dead – to learn an important lesson! Obviously the newly educated but now less numerous Palestinians will shout “Never again” as their slogan opposing Hamas in the next elections in Gaza thus showing that they “understand the consequences of previously voting for Hamas.” (Jan. 14)

Friedman also labeled Bush’s invasion of Iraq “the most noble act of US foreign policy since the Marshall Plan.” (NY Times, Nov. 30, 2003)

In 2006, Friedman praised Israel for successfully teaching a lesson by bombing and killing 1,000 plus Lebanese. “Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.”

One problem emerged with Friedman’s logic: Hezbollah emerged far stronger from the 2006 Israeli invasion; Israel much weaker.

Luckily, fanatic Arab militants seem to reject Friedman’s pedagogical method. Imagine, if they began to teach Jews around the world a similar lesson about the violent consequences that would result from supporting Israel! Imagine Friedman’s equivalent writing for the Nazi propaganda machine explaining how killing civilians in London, Leningrad or Warsaw would educate those supporting resistance to the folly of their loyalties!

The Friedman clones on op-ed pages and print and TV newsrooms throughout the West allows Israeli propaganda to prevail. But not as much as previously!

In a McClatchy/Ipsos poll of 1000 Americans adults, 44% supported Israel’s use of force, and 44% blamed Hamas for the Israeli invasion. Only 14% thought Israel had started the conflict. 57% thought Hamas was using excessive force, while only 36%, Israel. (LA Daily News, 1/14/09)

The media mostly omitted coherent history of Israel occupying Gaza after the 1967 Six-Day War and its subsequent illegal occupation of the territory; or that the UN has repeatedly demanded in resolutions that Israel withdraw. After Hamas won the 2006 Gaza elections, Israeli authorities stopped delivering tax revenues on imports that the Gaza government needed to pay bills and police.

Israeli blockaded the Gaza border – an act of war under international law. This provoked the rocket firings into Israel, most of them missing human targets. Simultaneously, Israelis fired missiles into Gaza killing and wounding far more people than the inaccurate Palestinian missiles. The Israeli blockade stopped medical supplies as well, leading to more death and disaster.

The US press didn’t print the most outrageous pro Israel statements.

At a rally in New York, reported Max Blumenthal, “a man held a banner reading, ‘Islam Is A Death Cult.’” Some rally-goers “called for Israel to “wipe them [people of Gaza] all out.” (Alternet, Jan 13)

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel Beiteinu, which polls say will soon be Israel’s fourth largest party, demanded in a university speech in Israel that bombing in Gaza continue until Hamas “loses the will to fight.” Lieberman continued: “We must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II.” (Jerusalem Post,January 13, 2009)

Instead of reading such statements, the US public got regurgitated reports about Israeli leaders courageously removing troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Surprise! On New Year’s Eve CNN asked: who broke the June 2008 ceasefire that led to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza? Mustafa Barghouti got air time. In 2005, this Palestinian physician got almost 20% of the vote for President of the Palestinian National Authority against Mahmoud Abbas. “The world press,” he declared, “is overwhelmed with the Israeli narrative, which is incorrect. The Israeli spokespersons have been spreading lies.”

Barghouti charged that “Israel started attacking Hamas, and never lifted the blockade on Gaza.” CNN’s Rick Sanchez then said he had confirmed Barghouti’s version of the facts. Israel, not Hamas had started the war.

A NY Times columnist (Nicholas Kristoff, January 8), a Wall St. Journal writer (George Bisharat, January 10) and Time (January 8) also questioned Israel’s behavior. (“Why Israel can’t win”)

Until Israel began its Gaza massacre, US and mainstream Israeli media have accepted as axiomatic that Hamas means “terrorists.” Reporters have repeated the line about Hamas using Gaza residents as “human shields” after launching missiles targeting innocent Israelis. Humane and very patient Israel had no choice but to bomb the bejeezus (or the bemohammed) out of the “military installations” — homes, clinics, refugee camps and schools as examples. Israelis naturally feel terrible about the thousands of dead and wounded women and children.

Rashid Khalidi pointed out “as an occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.” It has failed miserably to meet this responsibility. (NY Times, January 8)

Pro-Israeli media denigrates cowardly Hamas for seeking shelter among civilians. Imagine, as Uri Avnery suggested, German propaganda during World War II. “The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins.” Hamas, Uri Avnery wrote, do not “hide behind the population.” Rather, the population views them as their only defenders. (The Progressive, Jan. 11)

In 2006, George Bush pushed free and fair elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. Hamas won. The residents had become fed up with corrupt and insensitive Fatah, the US backed party of the Palestinian National Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas.

Because Palestinians made “the wrong choice,” Israel shut off fuel and electricity and restricted needed imports and peoples’ movements. The result: high unemployment, extreme poverty and hunger. Israel had used economic means to punish Gaza’s population for its electoral choice. Then, it subjected them to collective military punishment. Israel’s kill and destroy method seems unlikely, however, to convince Palestinians to reject Hamas, just as other people suffering punishment from oppressive military goliaths did not yield to brute force – even those who read Thomas Friedman on pedagogy.

Israel presented its bombing as deterrence, teaching a lesson by killing. Much of the world saw the response as disproportionate and downright barbaric. The US equivalent of suffering in Gaza as of January 16 would have meant 226,000 dead Americans, one third women and children and 1 million plus wounded, a third of them women and children.

Israeli apologists refer to bombing the UN Fakhura school and the Jabaliya refugee camp as inevitable mistakes of a necessary war. Israel must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets and Hamas fighters had fired mortars from or near the school. Later, Israel showed an aerial photo portraying the school and mortar, but subsequently admitted the photo was a year old.

Although the US public tended to believe Israel’s version, not the retraction, the war has caused confusion. What was this war about? Could it be as banal as gaining seats in the coming elections? That Israeli Defense and Foreign Ministers Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni have shown their voting publics – elections next month – they have bigger cojones than the hawkish Bibi Netanyahu?

Saul Landau received the Bernardo O’Higgins award from the Republic of Chile for his work on human rights. His latest book is A Bush and Botox World (AK/CounterPunch Press).

Israeli human rights groups speak out as death toll passes 1,000

January 15, 2009

The number of Palestinians killed by Israel’s offensive in Gaza climbed above 1,000 yesterday, despite repeated calls from the UN for a halt to the conflict.

With mounting concern about the hundreds of civilians killed, nine Israeli human rights groups wrote to their government warning of their “heavy suspicion … of grave violations of international humanitarian law by military forces”.

Among the sites hit yesterday was Sheikh Radwan cemetery. Thirty graves were destroyed, spreading rotting flesh over a wide area. The army said it was targeting a nearby weapons cache.

So far 1,010 Palestinians have died, including 315 children and 95 women, Dr Moawiya Hassanein, head of Gaza’s medical emergency services, told the Guardian. The number of injured after 19 days of fighting stood at 4,700, he said. On the Israeli side, 13 people have died, among them three civilians, and four soldiers accidentally killed by their own troops.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which is based in Gaza and has field staff across the territory, believed at least 673 civilians had been killed – about two-thirds of the total. A more accurate count of civilian deaths is difficult, with journalists and international human rights observers banned from entering Gaza.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, was in Cairo for talks to halt the fighting. “My call is for an immediate end to violence in Gaza, and then to the Israeli military offensive and a halt to rocket attacks by Hamas,” he said. “It is intolerable that civilians bear the brunt of this conflict.”

Yesterday John Holmes, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told the security council: “The situation for the civilian population of Gaza is terrifying, and its psychological impact felt particularly by children and their parents, who feel helpless and unable to protect them.”

He added that Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel violated international laws and must cease. “Yet any Israeli response must itself comply with international humanitarian law. Here, too, there is considerable and grave cause for concern.”

The Israeli military pressed on with its offensive yesterday, striking 20 sites across Gaza, including what it said were rocket launching sites, three smuggling tunnels, several armed gunmen and five buildings storing weapons.

Yet despite the intense bombing and artillery, militant rocket fire from Gaza has continued every day since the war began. Yesterday at least 16 rockets were fired into southern Israel, some reaching as far as Be’er Sheva and Ashdod.

Separately, guerrillas in southern Lebanon fired rockets into northern Israel yesterday. There were no casualties. The Israeli military fired mortars back.

The nine Israeli human rights groups, which include B’Tselem, Gisha, Amnesty International’s Israel section and Physicians for Human Rights, said accounts from Gaza showed the Israeli military was “making wanton use of lethal force” and called for a halt to attacks on civilians, access for civilians to escape the fighting, medical care for the injured, access for medical and rescue teams and the proper operation of electricity, water and sewage systems. Their unusually strong criticisms stand out in a country whose Jewish population at least has been united in extraordinarily strong support for the war in Gaza.

The desperate state of health facilities in Gaza was highlighted yesterday in the Lancet medical journal. Several mobile clinics and ambulances have been damaged by Israeli attacks, it notes, and at least six medical personnel killed. Hospitals and clinics have been forced to close. International law requires that all medical staff and facilities be protected at all times, even during armed conflict, said the Lancet. “Attacks on staff and facilities are serious violations of these laws,” it said.

Many doctors are working 24-hour shifts, ambulances cannot be maintained and are breaking down, while hospital equipment, medicines and anaesthetics, beds and medical staff are all in short supply. Hospitals and clinics have had their electricity supplies cut and are relying on “fragile back-up generators”.

Norwegian doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse wrote that during their spell working in al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City in the current conflict they had “witnessed the most horrific war injuries in men, women and children of all ages in numbers almost too large to comprehend. The wounded, dying and dead have streamed into the overcrowded hospital in endless convoys of ambulances and private cars and wrapped in blankets in the caring arms of others. The endless and intense bombardments from Israeli air, ground and naval forces have missed no targets, not even the hospital.”

Two Palestinian journalists working for an Iranian television station were charged in Israel yesterday with passing classified information to the enemy. They were accused of reporting the start of the ground invasion two weeks ago while the information was still under military censorship, and could face lengthy jail terms.


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