Thursday, June 29 2006 @ 06:52 AM MSD
|Israeli warplanes bombarded two main vital bridges and the main power station in the impoverished Gaza Strip before pushing tanks and troops deep into the coastal strip early on Wednesday, June 28.|
"Israel is continuing with its state terrorism against the Palestinian people," former minister and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Jazeera news channel.
"We had an agreement, sponsored by the European Union, that energy and power stations should be left out of the conflict," he averred.
"We are seeing a humanitarian crisis unfolds before our eyes."
Gaza City was plunged into darkness after Israeli aircraft hit the main power station, sending flames shooting into the sky and cutting off electricity to much of the coastal territory, where 1.4 million Palestinians live.
The attack followed air strikes that destroyed two main bridges and hit a road in the central Gaza Strip, as combat helicopters flew overhead and tanks and armored vehicles rolled into the strip.
Israeli public television said the air operation could be the prelude to a major ground offensive in Gaza, where Israel ended a 38-year occupation in September last year.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ordered his army to conduct a series of military operations in the Gaza Strip after Corporal Gilad Shalit, a tank gunner, went missing during a Palestinian attack on an Israeli military post on Sunday, June 25.
Scores of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles lined up in farmland near the Kerem Shalom crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel with their turrets and guns pointing straight towards the Palestinian territory.
Army radio reported deployments of two infantry regiments and two armored battalions, which would put the concentration of troops at around 5,000.
Palestinian resistance groups have vowed not to release the 19-year-old soldier until all Palestinian women and children are freed from Israeli jails, a demand already categorically ruled out by Olmert.
Israeli forces pushed into the disbanded international airport in Gaza, a Palestinian security official said.
"Israeli armored vehicles drove up to the airport two hours ago and fired on the building," the official told AFP.
The Israeli army, backed up by Apache helicopters hovering overhead, was preventing anyone from coming within one kilometer (half a mile) of the facility, an AFP correspondent said.
The airport is located about one kilometer from the Israeli border.
Shortly after the Palestinian Intifada broke out in 2000, the Israeli army destroyed the newly built airport's radar station and bulldozed its runways.
Palestinians have abandoned border homes fearing a large-scale Israeli assault.
Preparing to confront the invading troops, Palestinian resistance fighters fanned out behind barricades and in foxholes.
They blocked roads with piles of sand and planted improvised bombs.
An army intelligence officer said Israel knew where Shalit, believed to be alive but injured, was being kept.
A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees -- one of three groups that claimed Sunday's attack -- insisted the soldier would remain in captivity as long as Israel ignores their demands.
The Israeli military escalation came amid international appeals for restraint.
Amid the military build-up, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to give diplomacy a chance, saying there was a "concerted international effort" underway for the release of Shalit.
She called for efforts to "calm the situation, not to let the situation escalate, and give diplomacy a chance to work and try to budget this release."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also urged Israel to use political rather than military means to seek the soldier's release.
Israel has also played down the groundbreaking agreement reached by Palestinian factions late Tuesday which implicitly recognizes its right to exist, saying it was an "internal matter".