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2009年1月13日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 8(IHT/Asahi: January 9,2009)

EDITORIAL: Tragedy in Gaza


Israeli tank shells slammed into three Gaza Strip schools operated by a United Nations relief agency for refugees on Tuesday, killing nearly 50 people. Many of the victims were Palestinians displaced by Israel's ground offensive against Hamas militants. Heart-wrenching images of killed and injured children emerged from the sites.


Israel says the shelling of the schools was in response to mortar rounds fired by Hamas militants from these facilities. Even if that is true, the fact remains that Israel targeted public facilities sheltering many civilians and was fully aware of the likely consequences.


We cannot help but wonder whether such action, which was bound to result in heavy collateral casualties among civilians, falls in the category of indiscriminate attacks on non-combat zones and civilians that are banned by international law. The strikes on the schools are so inhumane as to qualify as massacres. The situation is so serious that it may even raise serious questions about the raison d'etre of the United Nations itself.


Forty people died at the Jabaliya refugee camp school, located adjacent to Gaza City. It sits in the middle of an area where more than 100,000 refugees are living within about 1 square kilometer of land. The refugee camp is bustling with four- and five-story concrete-block residential buildings. These buildings will collapse if they are shelled. The U.N. school, which has a schoolyard, is the only place in the area where Palestinian refugees can take shelter from the Israeli onslaught.


The local representative of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said the international community has a responsibility to act swiftly to effect a truce to protect civilians and children.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a 48-hour emergency cease-fire for relief activities like treating the wounded. But Israel has rejected the proposal, saying it cannot halt the military operations as long as the Muslim extremist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, has the ability to attack Israel with rockets.


It is hard not to think that the Israeli military is seeking to annihilate Hamas, which has both political and social welfare arms, and trying to punish the Palestinian people for supporting the group, instead of simply fighting Hamas militants.


Unless the conflict comes to an end quickly, civilian casualties will keep mounting, transforming the coastal enclave into scenes from hell. Israel must immediately stop its military campaign in Gaza, instead of halting the operations for just three hours every other day as it promised to do on Wednesday.


There has been a serious food shortage in Gaza because of the economic blockade imposed by Israel since summer 2007. Hospitals in the Palestinian territory have run out of anesthetics and other medical products. The Israeli onslaught has brought the situation to a crisis point. This humanitarian crisis cannot be allowed to continue.


The good news is that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has clout with both Israel and the Palestinians, has started diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire deal. Mubarak has called for an immediate cease-fire for a specific period for humanitarian purposes, including delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza. European countries have welcomed the Egyptian initiative.


The Japanese government has also called for a halt to the military operations in Gaza. But it should launch more active diplomatic efforts to help defuse this crisis, such as sending envoys to the region to persuade Israel and other parties involved and holding talks with countries supporting Hamas, such as Syria and Iran.


As of this month, Japan is a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council. It is part of the nation's responsibility to contribute to the international efforts to figure out ways to make the virtually paralyzed United Nations start performing its core functions.



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