News & Current Affairs

December 30, 2008

Gaza air campaign ‘a first stage’

Gaza air campaign ‘a first stage’

Israel’s air assault on Gaza is “the first in several stages” of operations aimed at ending militant rocket fire, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said.

As bombing continued for a fourth day, another top official said Israel was ready for “long weeks of action”.

Palestinian officials say more than 360 people have been killed since Saturday. Four Israelis have died in rocket fire.

As EU officials prepared to discuss the crisis, some reports from Israel said it was considering a temporary truce.

Mr Olmert was set to discuss the idea of a 48-hour suspension, suggested by France, with his officials later in the day, the French news agency AFP said.

But Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer warned a truce would allow militant group Hamas – which controls Gaza – “to regain strength… and prepare an even stronger attack against Israel”.

US President Bush agreed in a telephone conversation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that for any ceasefire to be effective it had to respected by Hamas, the White House said.

A BBC reporter says Israeli tanks and troops are massed along Gaza’s border.

Correspondents say this could be a prelude to ground operations, but could also be intended to build pressure on Hamas.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana called for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of crossings to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, as EU foreign ministers prepared to discuss the crisis in Paris.

‘Defenseless population’

On Tuesday, Israeli jets attacked more targets linked to Hamas, hitting a number of government buildings and security installations.

At least 10 people were killed and 40 said to have been wounded in the raids.

One air strike killed two sisters, the eldest aged 11, riding in a donkey cart in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, Palestinian medical sources said.

Palestinian children search the ruins of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip, 29 December 2008

The UN has called for an investigation into the attacks, which are causing heavy civilian casualties. It says at least 62 of the Palestinians killed so far were women and children.

Richard Falk – the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories – said the international community must put more pressure on Israel to end its assault.

“Israel is committing a shocking series of atrocities by using modern weaponry against a defenceless population – attacking a population that has been enduring a severe blockade for many months,” Mr Falk said in a BBC interview.

But Israeli officials said there was more to come.

The Israeli military “has made preparations for long weeks of action”, deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai said.

Mr Olmert’s statement that the bombardment was “the first of several stages approved by the security cabinet” was quoted from a briefing he gave to President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.

Separately, Israeli naval vessels confronted pro-Palestinian activists seeking to break the Gaza blockade by boat. The activists said one vessel rammed them; their boat made port in Lebanon with heavy damage on one side.

Rocket fire

The Egyptian-Gaza border was due to be opened to permit more trucks carrying aid to enter the territory, and for wounded Palestinians to be transported to Egyptian hospitals.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, under popular pressure to open the crossing fully, said that could not happen while Hamas, rather than the Palestinian Authority, led by its rival Fatah, controlled the border.

Demonstrators in Yemen, angered by Egypt’s co-operation with the blockade on Gaza, briefly stormed the country’s consulate in Aden, where they burned an Egyptian flag and hoisted a Palestinian one.

There have been angry protests against the Israeli offensive in many other cities across the Arab world and in several European capitals.

Hamas has pressed on with rocket and mortar assaults, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier in areas that have not previously suffered such fatalities.

Israeli military officials said rocket attacks landing more than 25 miles (40km) from Gaza put nearly 10% of Israel’s population of seven million within range.

Israeli political leaders have been under pressure to act against rocket fire with a general election looming in early February.

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu has backed the offensive, telling the BBC that “Israel is using a fraction of its power to try to target surgically the terrorists”.

The strikes began less than a week after the expiry of a six-month-long ceasefire deal with Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

Correspondents say short of a full-scale invasion of Gaza, it is unlikely Israel will be able to prevent rocket fire permanently.

Israel dismantled its strategic settlements and military bases in Gaza in 2005 but has kept tight control over access in and out of the narrow coastal strip and its airspace.

GAZA VIOLENCE 27-30 DECEMBER
Map of attacks in and around Gaza

1. Ashdod: First attack so far north, Sunday. Woman killed in second rocket attack, Tuesday
2. Ashkelon: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Monday
3. Sderot: rocket attacks
4. Nevitot: One man killed, several injured in rocket attack, Saturday
5. Civilian family reported killed in attack on Yabna refugee camp, Sunday
6.
Israeli warplanes strike tunnels under Gaza/Egypt border, Sunday
7. Three brothers reported killed in attack on Rafah, Sunday
8. Khan Younis: Four members of Islamic Jihad and a child reported killed, Sunday. Security officer killed in air strike on Hamas police station, Tuesday
9. Deir al-Balah: Palestinians injured, houses and buildings destroyed, Sunday
10. Tel al-Hawa – Interior ministry and Islamic University badly damaged, Monday. At least three buildings in ministry compound hit, Tuesday
11. Gaza City port: naval vessels targeted, Sunday
12. Shati refugee camp: Home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya targeted, Monday
13. Intelligence building attacked, Sunday
14. Jebaliya refugee camp: several people killed in attack on mosque, Sunday 15. Beit Hanoun – two girls killed in air strike, Tuesday
16. Israeli soldier killed at unspecified military base near Nahal Oz border crossing – five other soldiers wounded in same rocket attack, Monday night.

September 10, 2008

Sri Lanka jets bomb ‘rebel base’

Sri Lanka jets bomb ‘rebel base’

Sri Lanka Air Force MiG 27s (Photo from air force website)

Jets are said to have carried out raids deep inside rebel-held territory

Sri Lanka’s military says its jets have bombed a Tamil Tiger intelligence center in the north, a day after a rebel air raid on a military base.

Fighter aircraft pounded the rebel center in the northern region of Kilinochchi, the defense ministry said.

Reports from the area confirm an air raid, injuring at least two people. The rebels said civilian homes were hit.

The attack came as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern over the increased hostilities in Sri Lanka.

On Monday, the government issued a notice to foreign aid workers to leave the rebel-held areas in the north saying it could not guarantee their safety. On Tuesday, UN officials said they would relocate staff.

The government says that it is on track to defeat the rebels.

Displaced

Officials said the area where the latest military operation was carried out is deep inside rebel-held territory.

map

“Taking on offensive raids into the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] backyard, Sri Lanka air force fighter jets made precision air sorties at the LTTE’s main intelligence command and control centre located in Kilinochchi,” the defense ministry said.

The region also houses several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid agencies. The UN said one of its vehicles was slightly damaged.

The Tamil Tigers said the air force had bombed a civilian settlement near Kilinochchi town centre, destroying 12 homes.

“No one was hurt because people sought safety in the bunkers,” a statement said.

Photographs on their website showed buildings they said were civilian houses damaged or destroyed by the bombing.

Hospital officials told a pregnant woman had been injured in the bombing. She lost her baby after a stone hit her abdomen during the raid. A child also fainted.

Rubble of civilian homes the Tigers say were hit in the raid

Rubble of civilian homes the Tigers say were hit in the raid

There is growing concern for the fate of civilians in the north after the government ordered aid agencies to leave Tamil Tiger controlled territory.

The UN secretary general said the fighting had “grave humanitarian consequences for civilians”.

“He reminds all concerned of their responsibility to take active steps to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of civilians, allowing humanitarian organizations to do their work in safety, as well as to reach persons affected by the fighting who need humanitarian assistance,” a statement said.

Human rights group Amnesty International called for international monitors to be allowed into the north to oversee convoys of aid and other essential supplies.

There are about 70 UN national and international workers in areas of the north controlled by the Tamil Tigers, the UN says. Most are based in the town of Kilinochchi.

Aid agencies say there are nearly 160,000 people in the Tiger-controlled north who have been displaced by the fighting.

The International Red Cross (ICRC) – one of the most prominent international agencies in the north – said that its teams were committed to remain in both rebel and government-held areas.

Offensive

But an ICRC spokesman said that situation was being monitored and negotiations were currently underway with the government in Colombo.

UN camp for displaced people in Sri Lanka

The UN says the plight of civilians in the north is worsening

Correspondents say that part of the problem for some aid agencies in the north is that their staff cannot leave because they are Tamil locals and the rebels will not issue them with passes.

The military meanwhile says that its offensive – aimed at crushing the rebels and ending their fight for a separate state for the Tamil minority – is on course.

The ministry of defence said that it shot down a rebel plane on Tuesday in a major incident in which 12 soldiers and a policemen were killed during a Tamil Tiger attack on a base in the northern area of Vavuniya.

The Tigers said 10 of their suicide fighters were killed in the raid.

They said that the raid was backed by artillery and light aircraft dropping bombs and that a radar station was destroyed in extensive damage to the base.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for a separate state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of Sri Lanka for 25 years.

More than 70,000 people have died.

September 9, 2008

S Lanka ‘shoots down rebel plane’

S Lanka ‘shoots down rebel plane’

Map

Sri Lanka’s air force has shot down a plane belonging to the rebel Tamil Tigers, military officials have said.

If confirmed, it would be the first rebel plane downed by the military.

The aircraft was intercepted by fighter jets after it and another rebel plane bombed a military airfield in the north of the island, the air force said.

A rebel artillery strike and ground assault on the air base killed 10 soldiers, 10 rebels and one policeman, the ministry of defense said.

The Tamil Tigers said they had no information that one of their planes was shot down.

The ministry of defence said 15 soldiers, five air force personnel and eight police were also wounded in the attack on the air base at Vavuniya, near the front line in north-eastern Sri Lanka.

Government offensive

The air force said the light aircraft used by the Tamil Tigers was shot down over thick jungle near Mullaittivu, in rebel-held territory.

The Tigers’ rudimentary air force began operations last year with a surprise attack on an air base on the outskirts of the capital, Colombo.

A Tamil Tiger picture of bombs loaded beneath a plane
The Tamil Tiger aircraft have improvised bomb racks

The last successful rebel attack took place on the strategic eastern port of Trincomalee in August, when 10 sailors were wounded.

The Tamil Tigers have a number of small Czech-built, two-seater, propeller-driven Zlin-143 aircraft, which are operated from jungle airstrips.

They are thought to have been smuggled into the island in pieces, then reassembled and modified to carry bombs, our correspondent says.

The aerial battle comes as the government forces continue a major offensive against the rebels in northern areas of the island.

On Monday, the government ordered all aid workers out of the battle zone, saying it could not guarantee their safety.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for a separate state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of Sri Lanka for 25 years. More than 70,000 people have died.

August 9, 2008

Russian jets attack Georgian town

Russian jets attack Georgian town

Russian jets have carried out strikes on military targets in the central Georgian town of Gori, close to the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Most of the targets seem to have been military bases, but Georgian officials said a number of civilians had been killed in residential buildings.

Russia said it had “liberated” the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

Earlier, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country was seeking “to force the Georgian side to peace”.

BBC map

The comments came after Russian commanders announced they were sending more troops into South Ossetia to support peacekeeping operations.

The Russian defence ministry confirmed two of its jets had been shot down over Georgia, although it did not say where.

In a live televised address, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said he would ask parliament to approve the introduction of martial law.

After days of exchanging heavy fire with the Russian-backed separatists, Georgian forces launched a surprise attack on Thursday night to regain control of the region, which has had de facto independence since a war in 1992.

In response, Moscow sent armoured units across the border. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said about 1,500 people had been killed so far, including 15 of his country’s soldiers.

President Saakashvili said 30 Georgians had been killed in two days and that Russia was at war with his country.

‘Military invasion’

Fighting raged around the breakaway region’s capital, Tskhinvali, overnight and into Saturday morning, although not at the same intensity as on Friday, Russian media reported.

Video still from Russia's NTV channel shows South Ossetian separatists walking near a burning Georgian tanks in Tskhinvali  (9 August 2008)

Russian said Tskhinvali had been liberated from the Georgian military

Later, the Russian Army’s Ground Forces commander, Gen Vladimir Boldyrev, told Russian media that his troops had retaken the city from Georgian forces.

“Tactical groups have fully liberated Tskhinvali from the Georgian military and have started pushing Georgian units beyond the zone of peacekeepers’ responsibility,” he said, after paratroopers were airlifted into the city.

Georgia said Russia had also launched air strikes on targets inside its territory, in what it described as “a full-scale military invasion”.

Later, Russian aircraft bombed mostly military targets in Gori, where Georgian troops have been massing at three bases to support their forces engaged in South Ossetia.

Our peacekeepers and the units attached to them are currently carrying out an operation to force the Georgian side to [agree to] peace
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The c’s Richard Galpin in Gori heard loud explosions and saw large plumes of smoke rising into the sky; soldiers and civilians were seen running through the streets.

One missile hit a military base, from which most of the soldiers appeared to have managed to escape beforehand, he says.

The Georgian military said residential buildings had also been struck, leaving a number of civilians dead. Our correspondent says injured civilians were being pulled from the buildings, which were on fire.

The Georgian foreign ministry said the Black Sea port of Poti, which is the site of a major oil shipment facility, had also been “devastated” by a Russian aerial bombardment.

Hospitals ‘overflowing’

President Medvedev said Russia’s military aim was to force the Georgians to stop fighting. He was speaking at a meeting on Saturday morning in the Kremlin with Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and the head of the Russian Armed Forces.

“Our peacekeepers and the units attached to them are currently carrying out an operation to force the Georgian side to [agree to] peace,” he said.

“They also bear the responsibility for protecting the population.”

SOUTH OSSETIA TIMELINE
1991-92 S Ossetia fights war to break away from newly independent Georgia; Russia enforces truce
2004 Mikhail Saakashvili elected Georgian president, promising to recover lost territories
2006 S Ossetians vote for independence in unofficial referendum
April 2008 Russia steps up ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia
July 2008 Russia admits flying jets over S Ossetia; Russia and Georgia accuse each other of military build-up
7 August 2008 After escalating Georgian-Ossetian clashes, sides agree to ceasefire
8 August 2008 Heavy fighting erupts overnight, Georgian forces close in on Tskhinvali

At the same time, a spokesman for Russian ground forces said reinforcements, including elite paratroopers, were being deployed.

On Friday, the Russian government said it had to act to defend South Ossetia’s civilians, most of whom have been given Russian citizenship.

It also voiced anger over the reported fatalities of Russian servicemen in the breakaway province, vowing not to allow their deaths to go unpunished.

Tskhinvali, where inhabitants are said to be sheltering in basements without electricity or phone lines, is reported to be devastated.

International Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman Anna Nelson said the ICRC had received reports that hospitals in the city were “overflowing” with casualties.

The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says diplomatic initiatives to end the fighting have so far proved fruitless.

On Friday evening, the UN Security Council failed to agree on the wording of a statement calling for a ceasefire.

Russia holds a permanent place on the Council, and has the power of veto over any official statements that it regards as unfair or inaccurate.

Permanent members Britain, the US and France, are pinpointing what they say is Russia’s aggression as the key factor in the slide towards war, while Moscow insists Georgia is to blame.

In other developments:

  • US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Russia to pull its troops out of Georgia and respect its territorial integrity
  • Georgia’s president said his country was withdrawing its contingent of 2,000 troops from Iraq to help deal with the crisis
  • The European security organisation, the OSCE, warned that the fighting in South Ossetia could escalate into a full-scale war
  • The US and the EU were reported to be sending a joint delegation to the region to seek a ceasefire and Nato said it was seriously concerned.

August 8, 2008

Georgia surrounds rebel capital

Georgia surrounds rebel capital

Georgia says its troops have surrounded the capital of separatist South Ossetia as Russia warns further aggression would lead to retaliation from Moscow.

Fighting around Tskhinvali resumed overnight, breaking a ceasefire deal, and bombardments are continuing.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakasvili has called on reservists to sign up for duty and accused Russia of sending fighter jets to bomb Georgian towns.

At least 15 civilians are said to have died as well as several Russian troops.

Residents of Tskhinvali are reported to be sheltering in basements as massive explosions rock the city. Both sides blame each other for breaking the ceasefire.

This is very sad and very disturbing and, of course, this will provoke actions in response
Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister

A spokesman for the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia told Interfax news agency that Georgian shells directly hit barracks in Tskhinvali, killing several peacekeepers.

Irina Gagloyeva, a South Ossetian official in Tskhinvali, described the scene in the beseiged city overnight after the Georgian military action started.

“Virtually all the people of the city are in shelters, myself included. It started at midnight, and has barely stopped for a minute,” she told the BBC. “Can you hear? That’s rockets. All my windows have blown out. Thirty-five thousand residents of our capital have become the hostages of Georgian fascism.”

Russian fighters

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia had simply run out of patience with attacks by separatist militias in recent days and had had to move in to restore peace in South Ossetia.

SOUTH OSSETIA
Map of South Ossetia
Population: About 70,000
Capital: Tskhinvali
Major languages: Ossetian, Georgian, Russian
Major religion: Orthodox Christianity
Currency: Russian rouble, Georgian lari

Georgia accuses Russia of arming the separatists who have been trying to break away since the civil war in the 1990s. Moscow denies the claim.

Russia called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to respond to the crisis, but members failed to agree on a Russian statement calling on both sides to renounce the use of force.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has convened his national security council and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised a response to what he called Georgian aggression.

The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says Russia has always said it supports the territorial integrity of Georgia but has also said it would defend its citizens. Many South Ossetians hold Russian passports.

Hundreds of fighters from Russia and Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia are reportedly heading to aid the separatist troops.

Mr Saakashvili’s claims of Russian jets bombarding Georgian targets have not been independently confirmed.

Georgia says its aim is to finish “a criminal regime” and restore order.

Georgia’s Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze told reporters on Friday the military operations would continue until there was “a durable peace”.

“As soon as a durable peace takes hold we need to move forward with dialogue and peaceful negotiations,” he told reporters.

Appeal for talks

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity told Interfax news agency his forces were still in control of the city, but Georgia claims to have Tskhinvali surrounded.

The Russian envoy to the UN, Vitaliy Churkin, described Georgia’s actions as “treacherous”.

“The situation in the conflict zone has reached a dramatic line,” he told the emergency session, according to Russian Vesti TV news.

“Civilians, old people and children are under massive artillery shelling from Grad rocket systems, guns and large-calibre mortars.”

Despite failing to agree a text, many council members did call on the parties to pull back.

China, where the Olympic Games opens on Friday, called for worldwide truce during the sporting event.

A White House spokesman said “all sides should bring an immediate end to the violence and engage in direct talks to resolve this matter peacefully”.


Are you in South Ossetia or elsewhere in Georgia? Have you been caught up in events? Send us your comments

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