Saturday, January 3, 2009

Israeli Ground Troops Invade Gaza To Halt Rockets : WAR IN THE GAZA!

Israeli Ground Troops Invade Gaza To Halt Rockets : WAR IN THE GAZA!

"The action I am taking is no more than a radical measure to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the enquiry take place in broad daylight!"

- Emile Zola, J'accuse! (1898) –

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Israeli ground troops invade Gaza to halt rockets

By IBRAHIM BARZAK and JASON KEYSER, Associated Press Writers Ibrahim Barzak And Jason Keyser, Associated Press Writers 36 mins ago


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Thousands of Israeli troops backed by columns of tanks and helicopter gunships launched a ground offensive in Gaza Saturday night, with officials saying they expected a lengthy fight in the densely populated territory after eight days of punishing airstrikes failed to halt militant rocket attacks on Israel.

The incursion set off fierce clashes with Palestinian militants and Gaza's Hamas rulers vowed the coastal strip would be a "graveyard" for Israelis forces.

"This will not be easy and it will not be short," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on national television about two hours after ground troops moved in.

The night sky over Gaza was lit by the flash of bullets and balls of fire from tank shells. Sounds of explosions were heard across Gaza City, the territory's biggest city, and high-rise buildings shook from the bigger booms.

Troops with camouflage face paint marching single file. As the ground troops moved in, Israel kept pounding Gaza with airstrikes. F-16 warplanes hit three targets within a few minutes, including a main Hamas security compound.

Witnesses in Gaza said that in the first phase, Israeli ground forces had moved several hundred yards inside Gaza. Israeli security officials said initial clashes with militants took place in open fields and soldiers did not immediately move into Gaza's crowded cities, where warfare would likely get much deadlier.

"We have many, many targets," Israeli army spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich told CNN. "To my estimation, it will be a lengthy operation."

Israeli leaders said the operation, meant to quell militant rocket and mortar fire on southern Israel, would not end quickly, but that the objective was not to reoccupy Gaza or topple Hamas. The depth and intensity will depend in part on parallel diplomatic efforts that so far haven't yielded a truce proposal acceptable to Israel, the officials said.

In the airborne phase of Israel's onslaught, militants were not deterred from bombarding southern Israel with more than 400 rockets — including dozens that extended deeper into Israel than ever before. They fired six rockets into Israel in the first few hours after the ground push began, the military said.

One rocket scored a direct hit on a house in the southern city of Ashkelon earlier Saturday and another struck a bomb shelter there, leaving its above-ground entrance scarred by shrapnel and blasting a parked bus.

"I don't want to disillusion anybody and residents of the south will go through difficult days," Barak said. "We do not seek war but we will not abandon our citizens to the ongoing Hamas attacks."

Israel called up tens of thousands of reservists in the event Palestinian militants in the West Bank or Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon decide to exploit the broad offensive in Gaza to launch attacks against Israel on other fronts.

The military said the country's north was on high alert in case Hezbollah guerillas decided to use its vast stockpiles of missiles against Israel. Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in the summer of 2006.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said U.S. officials have been in regular contact with the Israelis as well as officials from countries in the region and Europe.

"We continue to make clear to them our concerns for civilians, as well as the humanitarian situation," Johndroe said.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled emergency consultations Saturday night on the escalation in Gaza. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged key world leaders to intensify efforts to achieve an immediate truce including international monitors to enforce a truce and possibly to protect Palestinian civilians.

Israel's bruising air campaign against Gaza over the past eight days began days after a six-month truce expired. Gaza health officials say the air war has killed more than 480 Palestinians in an attempt to halt Hamas rocket attacks that were reaching farther into Israel than ever before. Four Israelis have been killed by rockets.

Israel is taking a risk by wading into intense urban warfare in densely populated Gaza that could exact a much higher toll on both sides and among civilians.

This sort of urban warfare has not gone well in past campaigns where Israel sent ground forces into Arab population centers in the Palestinian territories or in Lebanon wars in 1982 and 2006. Israeli forces have either gotten bogged down or sustained heavy casualties, without quelling violent groups or halting attacks for good.

The decision to expand the operation, while continuing to batter Gaza from the air and sea, was taken after Hamas refused to stop attacking Israel, government officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions leading up to wartime decisions are confidential.

Before the ground incursion began, heavy Israeli artillery fire hit east of Gaza City, in locations where the military said Hamas fighters were deployed. The artillery shells were apparently intended to detonate Hamas explosive devices and mines planted along the border area before troops marched in.

Hamas remained defiant as the ground war began.

"You entered like rats," Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan told Israeli soldiers in a statement on Hamas' Al Aqsa TV, broadcast shortly after the start of the invasion. "Your entry to Gaza won't be easy. Gaza will be a graveyard for you, God willing," he said.

"Gaza will not be paved with flowers for you. It will be paved with fire and hell," Hamas warned Israeli forces.

A text message sent by Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, said "the Zionists started approaching the trap which our fighters prepared for them." Hamas said it also broadcast a Hebrew message on Israeli military radio frequencies promising to kill and kidnap the Israeli soldiers.

"Be prepared for a unique surprise, you will be either killed or kidnapped and will suffer mental illness from the horrors we will show you," the message said.

Hamas has also threatened to resume suicide attacks inside Israel.

Hamas has long prepared for Israel's invasion, digging tunnels and rigging some areas with explosives. At the start of the offensive, Israeli artillery hit some of the border areas, apparently to detonate hidden explosives.

Before the ground invasion, defense officials said about 10,000 Israeli soldiers had massed along the border in recent days.

Israel initially held off on a ground offensive, apparently in part because of concern about casualties among Israeli troops and because of fears of getting bogged down in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his government decided to mount a land operation despite the risk it posed to thousands of soldiers.

An inner Cabinet of top ministers met with leading security officials for four hours Saturday before deciding to authorize the ground invasion.

Olmert told the meeting that Israel's objective was to bring quiet to southern Israel but "we don't want to topple Hamas," a government official quoted the prime minister as saying. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to share the information.

The immediate aim of the ground operations was to take control of sites militants use as rocket-launching pads, the military said. It said large numbers of troops were taking part but did not give specifics.

Israeli airstrikes intensified just as the ground operation was getting under way, and 28 Palestinians were killed. Palestinian health officials said civilians were among the dead, including a woman, her son and her father who died after a shell hit their house.

One raid hit a mosque in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, killing 13 people and wounding 33, according to a Palestinian health official. One of the wounded worshippers, Salah Mustafa, told Al-Jazeera TV from a hospital that the mosque was packed.

"It was unbelievably awful," he said, struggling to catch his breath.

It was not immediately clear why the mosque was hit, but Israel has hit other mosques in its air campaign and said they were used for storing weapons.

Israeli artillery joined the battle for the first time earlier on Saturday. Artillery fire is less accurate than attacks from the air using precision-guided munitions, raising the possibility of a higher number of civilian casualties.

An artillery shell hit a house in Beit Lahiya, killing two people and wounding five, said members of the family living there. Ambulances could not immediately reach them because of the resulting fire, they said.

Resident Abed al-Ghoul said the Israeli army called by phone to tell them to leave the house within 15 minutes.

The ground operation sidelined intense international diplomacy to try to reach a truce. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the visit the region next week, and U.S. President George W. Bush favors an internationally monitored truce.

Israel has already said it wants international monitors. It is unclear whether Hamas would agree to such supervision, which could limit its control of Gaza.

In Hamas' first reaction to the proposal for international monitors, government spokesman Taher Nunu said early Saturday that the group would not allow Israel or the international community to impose any arrangement, though he left the door open to a negotiated solution.

"Anyone who thinks that the change in the Palestinian arena can be achieved through jet fighters' bombs and tanks and without dialogue is mistaken," he said.

Hamas began to emerge as Gaza's main power broker when it won Palestinian parliamentary elections three years ago. It has ruled the impoverished territory of 1.4 million people since seizing control from the rival Fatah forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007.

Israel occupied Gaza for 38 years before pulling out thousands of soldiers in settlers in late 2005. Israel still controls Gaza border crossings.

Mid East Coverage

Israel's 'victories' in Gaza come at a steep price | The Jewish ethical tradition means embracing Palestinians, too.

The ground invasion of Gaza has begun -Take to the streets!

National Emergency Plan of Action

After heavy artillery firing by Israel into Gaza neighborhoods, a massive troop invasion has begun.

ANSWER Coalition, Muslim American Society Freedom, Free Palestine Alliance, National Council of Arab Americans, and Al-Awda - International Palestine Right to Return Coalition are calling on people across the country and around the world to take to the streets to show solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza and to demand an immediate end to the murderous attacks carried out by the U.S.-backed Israeli military against the people of Gaza.

Emergency Response Protests

There will be demonstrations today (Sat, Jan 3), tomorrow (Sun, Jan 4) and in the early part of next week.
Click here for a list of protests taking place nationally and internationally (updated frequently). Email to add the protest in your city.

Even in Sderot, Israelis Say No to Endless War

ISRAEL SENDS GROUND TROOPS INTO GAZA Reports from Gaza and Israel: IDF troops kill dozens of Hamas gunmen Amos Harel, Yoav Stern and Yanir Yagana, Haaretz Correspondents, and News Agencies

Israeli Lawmaker and Conscientious Objector Nephew of Ex-PM Benjamin Netanyahu Denounce Israeli Attack on Gaza Strip,7340,L-3646184,00.html


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For the Supreme Court, Tradition Is on Tap at Inaugural

When John Roberts Jr. told the Senate in 2005 that judges should be like umpires, applying the rules of others, he added a touch of judicial modesty: "Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire."

On Jan. 20, the same might be said of Roberts himself: None of the millions of people gathering for Barack Obama's historic inauguration will be there to see the chief justice as he administers the oath.

Yet there Roberts will be, continuing a long tradition -- and it is only tradition, not law -- that joins the Supreme Court and the presidency at a crucial time of transition in the nation's life. Justice John Paul Stevens will also be featured as he swears in Joe Biden as vice president moments before Roberts swears in Obama.

For a branch of government that does not get out much, it is also a rare moment of visibility, when the public sees the black-robed enigmas who make up the Supreme Court -- some of them wearing funny black skull caps. More about the caps later, but the inauguration opens a window on how the fates of the two branches are intertwined.

For Obama and Roberts, the juxtaposition is striking. As a senator, Obama voted against Roberts' confirmation, asserting that "he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak." And Obama stands poised, depending on vacancies, to populate the Supreme Court with colleagues who may cause Roberts grief.

But no one doubts that both men, with a keen sense of history and propriety, will carry out the ceremony with the cordiality that is the coin of the realm in Washington. If Roberts can shake hands with Justices David Souter and Stephen Breyer every day the Court is in session, he can grip and grin with Obama.

But if it turns out to be awkward, it won't be the first time.

The Bible that Obama has chosen for the ceremony was used in 1861 when Chief Justice Roger Taney swore in President Abraham Lincoln. The two men loathed each other, and to some eyewitnesses it showed. Lincoln had attacked Taney's pro-slavery Dred Scott decision during the campaign.

In 1997, Chief Justice William Rehnquist swore in President Bill Clinton for his second term, just days after the justices had taken a private vote on Clinton v. Jones. The decision exposed Clinton to the Paula Jones sexual harassment and civil rights lawsuit during his presidency -- a ruling that triggered a cascade of events that two years later found Rehnquist presiding over Clinton's impeachment trial. Rehnquist offered Clinton an ominous "good luck" after the oath was over, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been more cheery after swearing in Al Gore as vice president. "Every good wish," she whispered.

The two branches were also intertwined in 1973 when Chief Justice Warren Burger swore in President Richard Nixon, who had been re-elected as the Watergate scandal was snowballing. Though neither knew it, 19 months later Burger would author the decision in United States v. Nixon that forced Nixon to turn over Watergate tapes.

Nixon's first inaugural in 1969 was "perhaps the most awkward pairing" of them all, in the view of University of Southern California historian Mary Dudziak. Campaigning on a law-and-order platform, Nixon had railed against Earl Warren's pro-defendant rulings. Warren had announced his retirement, but President Lyndon Johnson's ill-fated nomination of Abe Fortas to replace him left Warren still in office to swear in Nixon.


The Supreme Court and the president have been joined at inaugurals almost from the beginning of the nation. George Washington, who took office before the Supreme Court was in business, was never sworn in by a chief justice but almost all presidents since then have been -- except when an emergency arises.

The first outdoor inauguration, James Monroe's in 1817, took place at the Old Brick Capitol -- the site that became, more than a century later, the home of the Supreme Court.

The last time someone other than the chief justice swore in a president came in 1963 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Dallas federal Judge Sarah Hughes, the only woman to swear in a president, was located swiftly after the assassination and agreed to administer the oath to Johnson aboard Air Force One.

Hughes knew the oath from the Constitution itself, but according to an oral history interview she gave at the Johnson library, she impulsively added the phrase "so help me God" to the end -- as many other oath-givers before and since have done.

California lawyer Michael Newdow, whose case challenging the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance went before the Supreme Court, sued in federal court Dec. 30 to enjoin Roberts from adding "so help me God" to the oath for Obama on Jan. 20.

Johnson's 1965 inaugural marked a change in tradition that diminished the Supreme Court's role in the inauguration somewhat. Johnson's wife, Lady Bird, held the Bible during the swearing-in, a job previously reserved for the clerk of the Supreme Court.

C. Elmore Cropley, the Court clerk who held the Bible for President Franklin Roosevelt's third inauguration in 1941, is remembered for a dubious distinction -- he dropped the Bible after the oath was given. A sequence of photos chronicling the mishap, as well as Cropley's self-conscious smile when he recovered, filled a full page of Life magazine the next week.


The chief justice is not the only member of the Court caught up in inaugural ceremonies. Associate justices often swear in the vice president, though a variety of others, including Senate presidents, House speakers, predecessors, and others have done the honors over the years.

The rest of the Court is also counted among the VIP contingent with the very best seats and access to the ceremonies. The papers of justices are full of memos and invitations spelling out logistical details, as well as invitations to inaugural galas and events. "Justice and Mrs. Blackmun will attend the breakfast, the swearing-in ceremony, and the luncheon (but may cancel themselves out of the swearing-in ceremony if it is terribly cold if that's alright with you)" reports one 1997 memo in the late Justice Harry Blackmun's papers at the Library of Congress.

If you can spot them in the crowd on the inaugural platform, the justices are often animated, like schoolchildren let out to play -- and they are striking with their black robes and black caps.

The mysterious black skullcaps have gone in and out of vogue with the justices since the early 20th century. They are not for inaugurals only -- at least four justices wore them at the laying of the Supreme Court cornerstone in 1932 -- but seem to be deployed mainly during cold weather. Brimless silk or wool skullcaps, often cornered to give them shape, have been occasionally associated with British judicial garb since the 15th century, but the Court curator's office says "there does not appear to be a direct lineage" from Britain to Supreme Court use.

Chief Justice Edward Douglas White wore one when swearing in President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 -- the first time a skullcap was documented in an inaugural photo. Chief Justice William Howard Taft also wore a skullcap during the ceremonies for Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Their heyday came in 1961 for Kennedy's inaugural when seven of the nine justices wore skullcaps. It might have been eight, but a memo reports that Tom Clark's cap was too small. "For the next inauguration get Mr. Justice Clark a size 7 3/8 skullcap," a note suggests.

Memos about skullcaps fill the Blackmun files throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with one even suggesting how they should be doffed and held during the National Anthem. But the caps were not worn widely again until after Rehnquist, a history buff extraordinaire, became chief justice in 1986. Whether Roberts, Rehnquist's successor and former law clerk, carries on the tradition is uncertain. During the last inaugural, two justices -- Breyer and Antonin Scalia -- wore them, while Ginsburg donned a black fur hat and the ailing Rehnquist wore a black golf-style cap.

Six inaugurations earlier, Blackmun seemed immune from the skullcap trend altogether. A December 3, 1980, memo from then-marshal Alfred Wong told the justices "it will be necessary for the Court to be in full formal dress .--- including skull cap, if that is the individual choice. If you are in need of a new cap, please notify this office prior to December 15, including your head size, and we will arrange to have one made."

In the margin Blackmun -- who usually marked up incoming memos extensively -- penciled in only a large question mark. He was not impressed.

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