Israeli military on standby for ground operation

AFP Photo / Patrick Baz
Violence in Gaza continues for an eighth day with Israeli warplanes bombing targets on the north of the territory. Reports claim Israeli troops in southern Israel are on standby to launch a ground offensive.

Israeli airstrikes have been targeting Hamas safehouses for a week now, and forces on the ground are ready to launch an incursion into Gaza.

Gaza health officials say at least 400 people have been killed and some 1,700 wounded in the Israeli assault.

The UN estimates a quarter of those to be civilians.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials have allowed dozens of foreigners to flee the fighting in Gaza.

Two planes of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry have brought 178 people to Moscow. 102 them are Russian citizens and the others are from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Moldova.

Before that they came to the checkpoint in Gaza on Friday. Not all of them, however, have passed through control, as according to Israel, for security reasons, some of the families had to be separated. These are mainly Russian-Palestinian couples.

After crossing the checkpoint they headed on bus to the Israeli-Jordanian border, from where they will be transported to Amman. Two planes from Russia's Emergencies Ministry are already waiting for the evacuees to fly them back to Russia.

A total of 183 people, half of whom are Russians and the rest from other CIS countries, came to the checkpoint on Friday. Not all of them, however, have passed through control, as according to Israel, for security reasons, some of the families had to be separated. These are mainly Russian-Palestinian couples.

After crossing the checkpoint they headed on bus to the Israeli-Jordanian border, from where they will be transported to Amman. Two planes from Russia's Emergencies Ministry are already waiting for the evacuees to fly them back to Russia.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces are poised to launch a ground offensive in the next stage of their assault on Gaza. Israel has been attacking Hamas targets in Gaza for six days now.

On Thursday, one airstrike killed a senior Hamas leader – Nizar Rayan – in his home. He was believed to have close ties with the group's military wing.

Palestinian officials say more than 400 people have been killed in the raids, while more than 1,700 have been injured.

People show their support to Palestinians

People across the Middle East are showing their support for Gaza and have begun protesting against the Israeli attacks in the region.

In the Iranian capital Tehran, as well as in other Iranian cities, hardline religious students held a march against the Israeli offensive. They filed into the former U.S. embassy in Tehran and burned posters of U.S., Israeli, Egyptian and Saudi leaders.

A series of anti-Israeli actions follow a religious decree by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which stated that anyone killed while defending Palestinians in Gaza would be considered a martyr.

In Ramallah, hundreds marched through the streets in support of their fellow Palestinians. The marchers have called on Israel to end the attacks on Gaza.

There has been strong support in the Fatah-run Palestinian territories for the citizens of Gaza, even though rivaling Hamas is the main political faction in Gaza.

Pro-Gaza demonstrators gathered outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for a candlelight vigil. They placed hundreds of candles on the ground to spell out the word “Gaza” in both English and Arabic. The protestors said they wanted to highlight the difference in the way the New Year was being marked in Gaza to the rest of the world.

On Friday, people demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy in Moscow against its aggression in Gaza. Those gathered shouted slogans calling on Israel to stop its military operation. Banners were held that read “Murderers! Hands off Palestine!” The unsanctioned meeting was broken up by police and around 40 demonstrators were detained.

The Israeli military operation in Gaza has sparked a wave of protests across the United States – Israel’s traditional ally. On Friday, dozens of pro-peace activists took to the streets of Washington in support of Gaza.

A series of protests have continued in Europe, India, Australia and South Africa.