Israel moved closer to invading Gaza, saying Thursday it had wrapped up preparations for a broad offensive after Palestinian militants fired about 100 rockets and mortar shells across the border in two days.
Israel’s foreign minister brushed off a call for restraint from Egypt’s president, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a direct appeal to Gaza’s people to pressure their leaders to stop the barrages. But the attacks showed no signs of ending. By nightfall, three rockets and 15 mortar shells had exploded in Israel.
Olmert issued his appeal in a rare interview with the Arabic language satellite channel al-Arabiya, saying Israel would not hesitate to respond with force if the attacks continued.
“I am telling them now, it may be the last minute, I’m telling them stop it. We are stronger,” he said.
Thursday’s rocket fire was far less than the barrage of 80 rockets the previous day, and there were no reports of injuries. But Israeli leaders said the continued fire – the most intense since Egypt brokered a cease-fire last June – was unacceptable.
One of the mortar shells landed at Israel’s passenger crossing with Gaza just as a group of Palestinian Christians was going through on their way to the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations, the military said. Another rocket exploded after nightfall in an industrial park south of the coastal city of Ashkelon, police said.
In Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that “whoever harms the citizens and soldiers of Israel will pay a heavy price.”
Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Vigils honor tsunami victims
From India to Indonesia, communal prayers, shared meals and candlelight vigils were held today to honor victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
For many, the modest ceremonies were a time to reflect on their lives and weigh progress in rebuilding homes and communities wiped out by the killer waves that struck a dozen nations.
Ibrahim Musa, a 42-year-old civil servant in the hard-hit Aceh province of Indonesia, said it feels like yesterday that his family was washed out to sea.
“Even after four years, I cannot forget how I lost hold of my wife and baby,” he said. “I have tried in vain to look for them for three years. Now I have no choice but to accept their departure as destiny.”
Musa was to gather with thousands of other people along the Aceh coast, where a massive earthquake triggered the tsunami that killed 230,000 people – more than half of them in Indonesia.
On Thai beaches, the site of more than 5,000 deaths, family members will light candles and a ceremony will honor hundreds of unidentified victims, disaster relief officials said.
In India, where about 10,000 died, interfaith prayers and a moment of silence will be held.
Hundreds of thousands of homes, schools, hospitals and businesses have been rebuilt in the largest relief operation ever seen.