Israel Hamas truce
Karel Prinsloo/AP
A group of Hamas gunmen carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers march near the Israeli
settlement of Neve Dekalim.

Nearly 300 Dead in Israel Strikes

December 28, 2008 12:03 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Israel’s retaliation for what it calls frequent mortar fire from Gaza has led to anger and demonstrations throughout the Arab world.

Dozens Dead, Hundreds Wounded

Despite a truce, Israelis living near the Gaza border endured “almost daily cross-border rocket and mortar fire,” Israeli leaders told Reuters. That munitions fire intensified earlier this week after Hamas announced it was officially ending the truce, which had lasted approximately six months.

Israel responded by firing into Gaza this weekend through airstrikes that destroyed the main security complex there. In about 24 hours, the strikes have killed 280 Palestinians and injured 700, Reuters reported.

Militants in Gaza responded by firing dozens of rockets into Israel, killing one man in the town of Netivot and injuring four others.

Israel has also put tanks near the border and the government has said some reservists can be called up.

The airstrikes have caused outrage and demonstrations in cities throughout the Middle East, the Associated Press reported. Lawyers in Jordan marched on parliament to encourage the government to expel Israel’s ambassador. Other protests in Mosul, Iraq, and Lebanon turned violent. Protesters in Syria burned Israeli and American flags.

One protester in Jordan told AP that the United States and Israel are responsible for the Middle East’s problems.

“The Israelis kill our people in Gaza and the West Bank. The Americans kill our people in Iraq. We’re refugees, kicked out of our home in Tulkarem in 1967 and we’re still displaced,” said Yassin Abu Taha.

Leaders from the European Union, the United Nations, Russia, Egypt and other nations condemned the Israeli strikes while calling for Hamas stop the rocket attacks. U.S. President George W. Bush put the blame squarely on Hamas and demanded an end to its firing of rockets.

Background: Hamas–Israel Truce Comes to an End

Hamas officials indicated Dec. 18 that the six-month truce between Israel and Hamas would come to an end, explaining that the cease-fire expired this morning and would not be extended. However, Israel claims that there was no set expiration date for the unwritten treaty.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said the group would let the truce expire because “the enemy refused to comply” with pledges to lift the military blockade and cease attacks, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The statements from Hamas officials might not be final, however. Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, “has been issuing contradictory statements about the truce this week,” The Associated Press reports.

Attacks on both sides accompanied the demise of the truce. Militants in Gaza launched 11 rockets and six mortar shells into Israeli neighborhoods, and Israel attacked rocket squads with at least two air strikes.

Those attacks are not the first instance of a broken truce. In November, Israeli forces destroyed a tunnel in Gaza that the military said was meant to kidnap soldiers, in a mission that killed six members of Hamas. Forces in Gaza then commenced with daily rocket attacks against southern Israel.

But the cease-fire has seen far fewer casualties than what is usual from violence between the two sides. Nevertheless, during the truce, Hamas protested that Israel never completely opened its border crossings, while Israel argued that Hamas used the lull in violence to build up its supply of weapons by smuggling arms from Egypt.

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded to Hamas’ words about the peace treaty by stressing Israel’s potential for an agreement with Syria, AP reports. “A peace treaty with Syria can be achieved,” he said. The two countries have held indirect talks in the previous months.

Israeli elections are scheduled for Feb. 10, and the Likud Party is ahead in the polls. Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the party, has strongly opposed a peace treaty with Syria if Israel would have to hand over the Golan Heights, which the country acquired during the 1967 war.

Context: The blockade and truce

Israel began the blockade against Gaza and the West Bank in early 2006 with the support of the United States and the European Union, after Hamas won parliamentary elections, the Los Angeles Times writes. Israel lifted the West Bank blockade in June 2007 when the Palestinian Authority’s power-sharing agreement fell apart, and the secular Fatah group took charge of the area.

Israel then engaged in peace talks with Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, while augmenting the blockade against Gaza. The rocket attacks from Gaza continued, however, the popularity of Hamas did not fade in the strip.

The Egyptian-mediated truce began on June 19 and both sides consented to observe a “mutual and simultaneous calm.” Israel also agreed to gradually ease the blockade, and the nation did permit “more food, fuel and humanitarian relief supplies into Gaza,” but Hamas said it wasn’t enough, according to the LA Times. The Israel military claims that Gaza has launched about 300 rockets and mortar shells into Israel since the Nov. 4 attack into Gaza because of the tunnels.

Israel has recently faced increasing international pressure to lift the Gaza blockade. Even the United States, Israel’s closest ally, expressed such sentiments last week. The European Union, United Nations and Russia have also pushed Israel to remove the blockade, according to Sky News.

Opinion & Analysis: Where do Israel and Hamas go from here?

Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New America and Century Foundations and the head Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative argued in Haaretz that, “the debate in Israel about continuing the cease-fire largely misses the point. Whether or not it’s extended, Israel’s overall approach toward Gaza is dangerously mistaken.” According to Levy, “Israel must do more than extend a cease-fire—Israel must allow Gaza to breathe, to reconnect to the world, to live on more than international handouts, and to reclaim its dignity.”

However, an entry in the national security and terrorism blog Little Green Footballs suggests that giving Hamas its space has not been beneficial: “Hamas is declaring the end of a nonexistent cease-fire, probably because they’ve managed to stockpile enough weapons and ammunition to feel brave again.”

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