Olmert Piles up the Pressure

Palestinians react after hearing news about the death of their relatives, as they stand outside the morgue at Kamal Adwan hospital, in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Israeli troops advanced into Gaza suburbs for the first time Tuesday, residents said, hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Islamic militants that they face an 'iron fist' unless they agree to Israeli terms for an end to war in the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Fadi Adwan)

Olmert Piles up the Pressure

RAMALLAH - In the face of U.S. denials, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office confirmed Wednesday that he personally intervened to ensure that the U.S. abstained from voting on UN Security Council Resolution 1860 last week.

According to Olmert, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forced to abstain from voting on the resolution, which called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and which she was largely responsible for authoring and putting together.

On Monday Olmert told a news conference in the Israeli town Ashkelon, which borders Gaza, that he put a call through to U.S. President George W. Bush moments before the ceasefire was to be put to a vote.

Olmert said he first tried to convince Bush to veto the resolution. However, Bush hadn't read the resolution, so Olmert informed him that he had, and that it should be vetoed. Bush then instructed Rice to abstain from voting after refusing to veto it.

Olmert is the only member of the Israel cabinet's war troika, which includes Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who is resisting implementation of an immediate ceasefire.

Barak wants a week-long "humanitarian ceasefire" in the Gaza Strip. Livni has called for an end to the operation, without any agreement with Hamas being reached. She believes that the "deterrence factor" has once again been established with Israel's numerous Arab enemies.

The deterrence factor is meant to serve not only as a warning for the Gaza resistance organisation but also for the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah which gave Israel a hammering during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war.

Nearly a thousand Palestinians have been killed and over 4,500 wounded, approximately half of them civilians. Just over 10 Israelis have died.

Israel's previous arguments for Operation Cast Lead, as the military assault on Gaza is codenamed, ranged from stopping rocket fire, which it hasn't, to destroying Hamas politically, which it doesn't appear to have done either.

During the incursion, Hamas has fired about 700 missiles, some of them more advanced than ones previously used, even deeper into Israeli territory. The Hamas leadership remains intact.

Olmert, however, is delaying meeting with senior Israeli ministers as he endeavours to allow the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) as much time as possible to cripple Hamas.

The troika alone cannot authorise an expansion or continuation of the Gaza ground offensive without approval of the Israeli cabinet.

Israel's relations with the UN Security Council vacillate between denouncing it when it rules against the Jewish State, and cooperating with it when it supports the country.

The State of Israel was established in 1948 after being given international legitimacy based on UN Security Council Resolution 181 of 1947, which divided the British Palestine Mandate into an Arab and a Jewish state.

Israel, however, has continued to occupy the Palestinian West Bank and build settlements there. It also continues to control Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace. All this is in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which called for Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Israel recently complained to the UN Security Council about the firing of Qassam rockets by Hamas into Israel. However, when the Security Council met to discuss the threat from Gaza, Israel refused to send its foreign minister to the UN headquarters.

Furthermore, Israel has also regularly pressured the Council to impose sanctions on Iran because of its alleged nuclear programme. Israel has also repeatedly called for Syria to be punished for smuggling weapons to Hizbullah, while simultaneously demanding that Iran and Syria also be punished for ignoring UN Security Council resolutions.

About a month ago, Livni praised the Security Council for passing Resolution 1850 which supported the Annapolis peace process as it supported her stand as a proponent of peace as she likes to portray herself.

Yet UN Security Council Resolution 1860 has been savaged by all and sundry in the Israeli Knesset or parliament, because it diverged from Israel's self-interest.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza continues to rapidly deteriorate.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that growing pockets of Palestinian civilians are trapped in their homes and unable to leave as food and water supplies dwindle.

Medical teams are battling to retrieve the dead and wounded as they too become victims of Israeli attacks in growing numbers.

Palestinians are also struggling to bury their dead as they are afraid to venture outdoors to reach cemeteries. Many have been forced to bury multiple corpses in single graves.

A significant portion of the Samouni clan was wiped out Tuesday in an Israeli shelling of a house in eastern Gaza. The exact count is uncertain as members of the family are presumed to be buried under rubble, but estimates range from 14 to 30 of the clan killed.

Bones of older relatives were removed from one grave to make place for the small bodies of three of the clan's toddlers.

One and a half million Gazans are sandwiched into an area 25 miles long by six miles wide, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

In just one instance of Israel going against established convention, Israeli rights group B'Tselem accused the IDF of firing on a woman waving a white flag.

Fifty-year-old Ravhiya Al-Najar left the home of a relative Tuesday while waving a white flag to allow the rest of her family to leave the home safely. According to the eyewitnesses, she was shot at just as she stepped out of the house, and immediately fell to the ground.

She continued to wave the white flag to indicate that there were no armed men in the area, but then one of the bullets struck her head and killed her, said B'Tselem. The IDF denied the incident.

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