Thursday, January 1st, 2009
Thousands of Israeli troops massed on the border with the Gaza Strip Wednesday night after Israel rejected calls for a temporary truce in its Chanukah war on Hamas.
As Hamas vowed to fight "until the last breath," ordinary Palestinian citizens in Gaza City - where there is no power or water - braced for an invasion. Bread lines and funeral marches were the only signs of life in the normally crowded streets.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe sent waves of dread through Gaza when he signaled that Washington won't try to stop Israel.
"A ground offensive - it's a term that encompasses a lot of things," Johndroe said at President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex. "I think it is just part and parcel of the overall operation that Israel is undertaking to rid Hamas of its ability to fire rockets into Israel."
On the fifth day of "Operation Cast Lead," Israel's security cabinet rejected any ceasefire as the body count in Gaza climbed near 400, 50 of them children, and Hamas rockets continued to land inside Israel. Four Israelis have been killed since Saturday.
"Israel will not agree to exist beside a terror strip," said Israeli President Shimon Peres, explaining why international pleas for a humanitarian ceasefire went unheeded.
"We have to protect our children," he said. "Hamas left us no choice."
Heavy cloud cover and a driving rain hampered the warplanes, so Israeli warships took up the bombardment of Gaza from the sea. The weather is supposed to clear today.
A total of 9,000 reservists have been called up this week, and Israeli pols have been hinting at a ground invasion.
"We in Hamas are ready for all scenarios and we will fight until the last breath," senior official Mushir al-Masri told the French Press Agency. "We have prepared surprises for them."
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, unscathed when his office was bombed Wednesday, said militants will keep firing rockets until the air strikes stop and Israel lifts the blockade that began strangling the Gaza Strip in 2007.
The head of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, taunted Israel for hesitating on the border.
"What is happening in Gaza is a victory, despite all the pure blood being spilled," Nasrallah said.
If a ground invasion goes ahead, Gaza's already-strained medical services will collapse, health care officials warned.
The operation Israel calls "all out war on Hamas" began Saturday during the festive Jewish winter holiday and is named for a Chanukah poem about "a dreidel cast of solid lead."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, "Israel has shown restraint for years. She gave the truce a chance; we told ourselves 'let's try it,' but Hamas violated the truce."
Israel's supreme court ordered the military to allow journalists into Gaza to report on the air strikes. Israel has restricted reporters from entering Gaza for months.
Israeli jets leveled a Gaza City mosque that was allegedly being used to hide a cache of Hamas rockets and missiles.