Hamas still firmly in control of Gaza


This story orginally appeared on The Media Line.

One year after the heavy fighting between the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip and Israel, Hamas remains firmly in control of Gaza and reconstruction of the 12,000 uninhabitable homes in Gaza has barely begun. Senior Israeli army officials are recommending that Israel open more border crossings between Gaza and Israel to enable more goods to enter Gaza and more Palestinians to leave.

“Since 2000, the number of people coming to UNRWA (the UN agency that handles Palestinian refugees) has gone from 80,000 to 860,000,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told The Media Line. “The Israeli blockade which is a form of collective punishment must be lifted soon and that includes exports. At the moment there have been no meaningful exports at all.”

The UN says that of the 2262 Palestinians killed in the fighting, 1500 were civilians, among them 551 children and 305 women. Israel disputes the figures saying more than half of those killed were Hamas fighters. Seventy-one Israelis, most of them soldiers, also died in the fighting.

Israeli airstrikes caused widespread devastation in parts of Gaza, which Israel says were used as launching pads for rocket strikes on Israel or as hiding places for Hamas weapons. Gunness said 12,000 homes in Gaza are uninhabitable after being totally or almost totally destroyed. While large amounts of ruble have been removed, reconstruction has barely started. Qatar has offered to build hundreds of new homes there.

In recent weeks, there has been speculation that Israel and Hamas are engaged in indirect negotiations over a long-term cease-fire. Israel has not responded to several rockets fired from Gaza in the past few weeks, which were apparently fired not by Hamas but by Salafi elements who are challenging Hamas.

Some Israeli analysts say that accepting a long-term truce with Hamas would be a mistake.

“All we would be doing is giving them the time they need to rehabilitate their capability,” General Yakov Amidror, a former national security advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told The Media Line. “We will then have to face them when they are strong enough. There is no logic in such an argument.”

He said Hamas lost almost two-thirds of its rocket capabilities during the fighting with Israel, half of which was destroyed in Israeli air strikes, and half was fired. Other military analysts say Hamas has restored its short-term rockets although not the longer-term missiles which can hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

While that may be true, Amidror counters, Israel’s Iron Dome proved effective at stopping the rockets, meaning that Israel has established a position of deterrence vis a vis Hamas.

“What Hamas needs is something different than what it had a year ago because nothing worked for Hamas,” he said. “Its RPGs were destroyed, Iron Dome coped with the missiles and the rockets and the tunnels were not a great success. The question is does Hamas have something new that we don’t know about.”

Hamas is facing a challenge from Islamic State, he said, which has established a strong presence in neighboring Sinai and is challenging Egypt. But in Gaza at least Hamas remains firmly in control.

Israeli press reports say that the army is recommending that Israel ease freedom of movement from Gaza. Egypt has also kept a tight hold on its Rafah crossing, afraid of being inundated with Palestinians who want to escape life in Gaza. For example, the officers said, Israel could allow thousands of Palestinians to travel via the Erez crossing through Israel to Jordan, where they could fly abroad. Israel could also reopen the Karni crossing for goods into and out of Gaza.

Chris Gunness of UNRWA agrees that could make a difference in people’s lives.

“It would make a huge difference,” he said. “Freedom of movement for civilians would be a very welcome thing.”

Israel says Islamic State’s Sinai assault aimed to help Hamas get arms


Israel accused Hamas on Tuesday of supporting last week's assaults by Islamic State affiliates on Egyptian forces in the Sinai in hope of freeing up arms smuggling to the Gaza Strip.

The remarks followed Israeli allegations that Hamas members provided training and medical treatment for the Sinai insurgents – charges dismissed by the Palestinian Islamist group as a bid to further fray its troubled ties with Cairo.

Egypt said more than 100 insurgents and 17 of its soldiers were killed in Wednesday's simultaneous assaults, carried out against military checkpoints around the North Sinai towns of Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah. Islamic State's Egypt affiliate, Sinai Province, took credit for the attacks.

Rafah straddles the border between Egypt and Gaza and had long seen smuggling to the Hamas-controlled enclave. But Cairo has been cracking down on such activity and deems Hamas a threat to Egyptian interests.

An Israeli intelligence colonel responsible for monitoring the borders with Egypt and Gaza said on Tuesday that Hamas, short of weaponry after its war against Israel last year, supported the Sinai assaults with the “objective of opening up a conduit” for renewed smuggling.

“Why was it is so very important for them (Hamas) to develop the connection with Sinai Province? Because they need the raw materials that would enable the military build-up in Gaza,” the colonel said in remarks aired by Israel Radio.

“To carry out high-quality smuggling required a special operation,” added the colonel, whose name was not published.

Hamas said Israel was conducting “a systematic incitement campaign”.

“The Egyptian side understands that Hamas had no connection to what happened in Sinai and also realizes the efforts Hamas is making to keep Gaza away from what happens there,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Palestinian movement.

Egyptian officials were not immediately available to respond to the Israeli colonel's allegations.

On Friday, Egyptian military sources said there was evidence that individuals from Hamas had participated in the Sinai battles but not of any wider organizational links.

Though they share hostility to Israel, Hamas and Islamic State have been at odds within Gaza. The insurgents threatened last week to extend their self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq to Gaza by toppling Hamas, which they described as insufficiently stringent about religious rule.

That strife ends at the Sinai border, Israel argues.

“Hamas is fighting ISIS (Islamic State) in the Strip, but on the other side there is cooperation between Hamas elements from Gaza and ISIS in Sinai,” Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a statement on Tuesday.

Where is Obama on Hamas?


I can understand why President Barack Obama would be reluctant to blindly support Israel at times when Israel’s neighbors have major grievances against the Jewish state. It serves no one’s interest for America to appear overly biased toward Israel. Better to appear fair and reasonable.

What I can’t understand, though, is why Obama has not jumped at the opportunity to rally behind Israel when neighbors such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are clearly on the side of Israel on one major issue: the disarming of Hamas.

This is not a parlor game of “Who won the war?” It’s more serious than that.

Disarming Hamas is about the rehabilitation of Gaza after major devastation. It’s about rebuilding the infrastructure, building better schools and hospitals, opening up trade, creating jobs and an economy, and giving the Gazan people hope for a better future.

It’s about ending the terror of rockets and mortars raining down on Israel, and ending the fear of Israeli children living near the Gaza border that a Hamas terrorist may one day dig a tunnel under their bedrooms.

It’s about improving relations between Israel and the Palestinians by having the PA control the Gaza strip and coordinate security with the Israel Defense Forces — as they’ve done so successfully in the West Bank. No matter how suspicious you may be of Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, they’re still far better than religious fanatics who believe that murdering Jews is doing God’s work. 

It’s about nurturing a closer relationship between Israel and powerful players such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the hope of creating an anti-terror coalition that can contain the violent Islamist extremism now sweeping the region.

It’s about showing the nuclear mullahs in Iran that we will stand up to their proxy wars against Israel via the likes of Hezbollah and Hamas.

It’s about America making a statement to the world that despite all the complexities of geopolitics, there should be no confusion when it comes to calling out evil. A Hamas charter that promotes the murder of Jews is exactly that — evil.

In short, this is about a unique chance for President Obama to fight the evil of Hamas by bringing together the more moderate forces in the Middle East. You would think, then, that the president would be all over this. You’d think, for example, that he’d be using all this “Arab leverage” to push for a United Nations Security Council resolution to disarm Hamas as a precondition for rebuilding the Gaza Strip. 

After all, this isn’t one of those risky or unpopular ideas — like putting American boots on the ground or being the lone defender of Israel against a hostile world. This is about Obama doing something very popular with plenty of important allies.

In fairness, the Obama administration has repeatedly expressed its support for the demilitarization of Gaza. But words, even the right words repeated often, are not enough. It’s time for real action. It’s time to go to the U.N. Security Council. 

We can only hope that the president has this idea up his sleeve, and that he will act aggressively on this issue. But it was disheartening to read a report on JPost this past weekend, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told associates that demilitarization of the Gaza Strip “doesn’t appear to be attainable in either the short term or the long term.”

Let’s acknowledge that the United Nations is never a picnic for Israel. As Haviv Rettig Gur writes in the Times of Israel, “The U.N. drafting process — much of it driven by Israel’s enemies … would see language and assertions added to the resolution that run counter to Israel’s interests.”

The only party that can ensure the move doesn’t backfire on Israel, he writes, is America: “Through its veto and its alliances, the U.S. would find it far easier than Israel to shepherd a disarmament resolution through the Security Council that Israel could stomach.”

At a time of unusual darkness in the Middle East, what a ray of sunshine this would be: The United States shepherds a U.N. resolution that fights extremism and helps its allies in the Middle East.

The American-Jewish community, including AIPAC and J Street, must seize the moment and rally behind this one unifying cause: “Disarm Hamas and rebuild Gaza.”

How often do we get a chance to promote a cause that is supported by both the Jews and the Palestinians?


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

End of Gaza war doesn’t translate into peace


A week after the guns fell silent in the Gaza war, Israel and the Palestinians seem to have little appetite or incentive for a return to U.S.-sponsored peace and statehood talks that collapsed five months ago.

With conflicts raging in Ukraine, Iraq and Syria – and the future of the Gaza Strip largely uncharted by a broadbrush Egyptian-mediated ceasefire deal – world powers also are not rushing headlong into the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

The parties themselves, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bickering governing coalition and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, are on a collision course over threatened Palestinian unilateral moves toward statehood and exploration of war crimes prosecution against Israel in the absence of direct talks.

Israel drew Palestinian and international criticism on Sunday by announcing a major appropriation of occupied land in the West Bank, the most significant such move in 30 years.

As head of a governing coalition divided over trading territory for peace, Netanyahu is now speaking, in amorphous terms, of an alternative route towards ending decades of conflict – a “new horizon” – or possible regional alliance with moderate Arab countries alarmed, like Israel, by radical Islam.

Closer to home and with the Gaza situation still in flux, there is nothing on the immediate horizon as far as peacemaking with Abbas is concerned, Israeli government sources said.

Under the Egyptian-brokered truce agreement, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to address complex issues such as Hamas's demands for a Gaza seaport and the release of Palestinian prisoners via indirect talks starting within a month.

With the start of those negotiations still up in the air, Netanyahu wants to see whether Abbas takes over responsibility from Hamas for administering Gaza's borders and that measures are taken to prevent the group from smuggling in weaponry.

Netanyahu, who appears to be weathering an approval rating plunge after the Gaza war ended without a clear victor, took a swipe at Abbas last week, summing up a conflict which the Palestinian leader persistently tried to bring to an end.

“Abu Mazen has to choose which side he is on,” Netanyahu told a news conference, using Abbas's nickname.

The comment harked back to Israel's decision in April to cut off peace talks with Abbas after he clinched a unity deal with Hamas, a bitter rival that had seized the Gaza Strip from his Fatah forces in 2007.

Those negotiations, on creating a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, were already going nowhere, with Palestinians pointing to expanding Israeli settlement on land they claim as their own and balking at Israel's demand to recognize it as the Jewish homeland.

REGIONAL PEACE

In an editorial laden with scepticism, Israel's liberal Haaretz newspaper questioned whether “as in the past” Netanyahu's remarks on casting a regional peace net, “are only empty slogans”.

Some of his cabinet ministers are also pressing Netanyahu to get moving on a wider track.

“We cannot and will not allow a situation whereby this ceasefire is the beginning of the countdown to the next round of fire. If we don’t take the diplomatic initiative, this is exactly what will happen,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator in now-dormant talks with the Palestinians, said: “(Netanyahu) has to be put to the test on this.”

Livni, speaking on Israel Radio, said Israel should “create a front with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – those countries threatened by all of those beheaders running around the region”.

But, she said, “they can cooperate with us only if there is a basic minimum of a peace process – dialogue with the moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority”.

In the past, Netanyahu has expressed little interest in embracing a regional peace plan, such as the 2002 Arab initiative that offered normalized ties with Israel if it withdrew fully from territory captured in a 1967 war.

But last year, he signaled in a speech to parliament a readiness to consider the proposal, raised at an Arab League summit 12 years ago, as long as it did not contain “edicts”.

Any land-for-peace moves would elicit even more dissent from right-wingers in his government who have been vocal over Netanyahu's reluctance to heed their calls during the Gaza war for a full-scale invasion to crush Hamas.

For now, he appears to be in little danger of seeing his political partnerships unravel.

About a month into the war, 77 percent of Israelis surveyed in a Haaretz-Dialog poll described Netanyahu's performance during the conflict as either good or excellent. That figure dropped to around 50 percent after the ceasefire was announced.

But the snap poll taken a day after the truce went into effect showed that despite his flagging popularity, he continued to top, by a wide margin, the list of politicians whom Israelis believed were most suited to lead them as prime minister.

The second-place pick was “Don't know.”

Editing by Alison Williams

Hamas leader says Gaza only a ‘milestone to reaching our objective’


Hamas will not cease its resistance against Israel until all its demands are met, the group's overall leader Khaled Meshaal said on Thursday, adding that the latest conflict over Gaza was only “a milestone to reaching our objective.”

Speaking at a news conference in Doha, where he lives in exile, Meshaal said the group would never give up its arms as part of any deal. He also said the group's military commander, caught earlier this month in an Israeli air strike, was “fine.”

“You cannot contain the resistance, because the resistance is in our thoughts and in our souls … our resistance will continue until all our demands are met and we are getting closer to victory and al-Quds (Jerusalem),” he said.

“This is not the end. This is just a milestone to reaching our objective. We know that Israel is strong and is aided by the international community. We will not restrict our dreams or make compromises to our demands,” Meshaal said.

Israel launched its assault on the Gaza strip with the declared aim of stopping rocket attacks against Israel and destroying tunnels it says Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, was using to infiltrate Israel and conduct assaults.

Hamas also called on Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing, as “a brotherly action.”

“The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that it be up for negotiation,” Meshaal said.

Speaking next to a big billboard with the slogan “A nation constructing its victory”, Meshaal painted the current Gaza truce as a victory for the Palestinian people.

“Our enemy only comes under pressure when they are under fire and as our rockets hit them they were forced to hold talks with us.”

Palestinian health officials say 2,139 people, most of them civilians, including more than 490 children, have been killed in the enclave since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive.

Israel's death toll stood at 64 soldiers and six civilians.


Hamas militants celebrate what they said was a victory over Israel on Aug. 27. Photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters

An open-ended ceasefire, mediated by Egypt, took effect on  Tuesday evening. It called for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza's blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt, and a widening of the territory's fishing zone in the Mediterranean.

Israel has said it would facilitate the flow of more civilian goods and humanitarian and reconstruction aid into the impoverished territory if the truce was honored.

Meshaal described the condition of the group's military commander Mohammed Deif as “fine,” after what it terms an Israeli assassination attempt on him earlier this month.

Hamas' military wing, the Izz-el-Din al-Qassam Brigades, had said at the time that Israel had missed its target and that Deif's wife and seven-month-old son were killed in the attack.

Deif was widely believed to be masterminding the Islamist group's military campaign from underground bunkers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declined to say whether Israel had tried to kill Deif, but said militant leaders were legitimate targets and that “none are immune” from attack.

Reporting by Amena Bakr; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; editing by Ralph Boulton

Why didn’t Gazans use the IDF field hospital?


For those few Gaza hospitals not bombed or evacuated during the Gaza war, the influx of wounded and dead made for a hellish 24/7 chaos in their halls, as well as growing refugee camps on their perimeters. At the height of fighting in late July and early August, doctors and journalists reported that Gaza’s hospitals, often without electricity or water, were so packed that some patients were being treated on the floor. Dead bodies stacked up so fast that some had to be stuffed in food refrigerators.

“The hospitals are full, the capacity is full — we cannot accommodate more,” Yousef Al Sweity, a doctor at the Al Awad Hospital in northern Gaza, told the Journal in late July, in a high-pitched panic. The hospital’s maternity ward, the only one of its kind in Gaza, was overflowing with hundreds of pregnant women either miscarrying or delivering prematurely as a result of their injuries. “Also because of the fear,” he said.

Yet, just a 15-minute drive north, a spacious Israel Defense Forces (IDF) field hospital erected on July 21 at Erez crossing, the only pedestrian walkway between Gaza and Israel, remained almost entirely empty. 

On Aug. 1, when a pack of reporters visited the IDF hospital, they didn’t see a single Gazan. Twenty full-time staff wore crisp scrubs — a far cry from the blood-splattered uniforms at Al Shifa, Gaza’s central hospital. Floors were squeaky clean. Brand-new stuffed animals sat unloved on empty cots, and pyramids of gauze rolls went unused. A miniature maternity ward stood silent.

Some journalists were confused as to why the Israeli Government Press Office would bus them all the way to Erez to show off a hospital without patients. “I was surprised there were no Palestinians here,” a French reporter told the Times of Israel. “This could be very damaging to Israel’s image.”

Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the agency that manages Erez crossing, told the Journal that the IDF field hospital was prepared to accommodate as many patients as were willing to accept treatment.

However, IDF doctors only took in around 50 to 60 patients over a month of fighting — and the hospital eventually closed its doors due to inactivity.

“We heard there was no place at the Palestinian hospitals in Gaza. We heard about a lack of medical equipment,” Inbar said. “So we were prepared to have many patients … we even prepared the ability to do surgeries in that hospital. But even though we offered it, the Palestinians decided not to [come].”

Israeli officials claim Hamas prohibited ambulances from delivering Palestinian patients to the IDF field hospital.

Medhat Abbas, director general of the Gaza Ministry of Health, run by Hamas, confirmed. “We as the Ministry of Health will never, ever send a Palestinian patient to these child killers,” he said.

“These are the people who are killing our children,” Abbas said. “We don’t need their help — we need to bring them to justice, not bring our children to their hospitals.”

Because of this policy, Inbar said, the IDF field hospital’s only patients were Palestinians carried back from the battlefield by Israeli soldiers or those needing urgent care during their transfer through Erez by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

“Of course we were aware of this hospital,” said Ran Goldstein, the spokesman for ICRC in Tel Aviv. “But when we coordinate or evacuate wounded people from Gaza, we do it according to the rules of the PRCS [Palestine Red Crescent Society].”

As of press time, a spokesperson for PRCS, Gaza’s main ambulance service, had not returned multiple calls requesting comment. However, medics working with the PRSC told the Journal that, like Hamas health officials, they never would have considered rushing patients straight into the hands of the same army that bombed them.

Mahmoud Abu Rahma, spokesman for the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, said his organization took testimony from Palestinians who refused treatment from the IDF, including patients with long-term permits to leave Gaza for existing medical conditions who were now being rerouted to the field hospital.

“The certain thing is that the Israeli army was frustrated that people didn’t want to go to their hospital,” Abu Rahma said. “I think people understood that this was a huge part of the Israeli propaganda. They were aware of how this would be used.”

Another point of confusion surrounding the field-hospital concept was how Gazans would get there when they needed emergency treatment most. During the IDF ground operation, in which hundreds of Palestinians were wounded every day and night, PRSC ambulances came under heavy fire when they even slightly breached the battle zone.

Information gathered by the Journal over weeks speaking with IDF soldiers and witnesses in Gaza indicated that Palestinian fighters sometimes used ambulances for transportation, and that as a result, the IDF often targeted ambulances during ground fighting.

The IDF field hospital “is a joke,” said Ahmad Abu Azan, a 25-year-old medic for the PRSC. Israeli tanks blew big chunks out of Abu Azan’s legs while he was trying to evacuate wounded civilians out of the hard-hit Shujaiya neighborhood on July 30. “No one will accept to come to an Israeli hospital after what they did.”

Abu Azan, now recovering in an East Jerusalem hospital, said his ambulance driver and a Palestinian photojournalist traveling with their medical team didn’t survive the rescue mission.

Aside from the contradictory nature of setting up an IDF hospital to treat IDF-inflicted wounds, said Ran Cohen with Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, “The reason it’s not succeeding is because arrival needs to be coordinated with COGAT. This is something most people can’t do.”

After struggling to draw patients to the IDF’s on-site treatment center at Erez, COGAT now mainly facilitates the transfer of Palestinian war casualties to hospitals outside of Gaza, in coordination with Palestinian health officials in the West Bank.

Inbar estimated that about 500 injured Gazans have been transferred through the Erez crossing over almost two months of war — and from there, corridors to safety have become as complex and political as the region.

The majority of evacuated Gazans are ending up at hospitals in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem (the largely Palestinian part of Israel’s capital city). “We feel safe that they’re in Palestinian hands,” said Abbas, director general of Gaza’s Ministry of Health.

Dozens have also been treated in Israel proper, and a few dozen more have reached Jordan, via long and checkpoint-heavy ambulance rides, and Turkey, via private flights out of Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport. In addition, more than 200 Palestinians have been transferred through Gaza’s southern Rafah crossing and treated in Egypt, Abbas said.

Internationally, hosting Gaza patients is becoming a public-relations race: Seven-year-old Maha Khalil, paralyzed from the neck down, was swarmed by reporters on her trip through Erez crossing; once she was settled in a fresh hospital bed in Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan kissed the girl’s limp hand for the cameras.

But in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the honor of hosting Gazans is also a duty — and hospitals are creaking under the load.

East Jerusalem’s Al Makassed Hospital is well on its way to reaching the overflow state of Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, and is turning into a makeshift camp for injured and kin. Family members who accompanied more than 70 patients from Gaza were granted only one-day permits in the city and have no safe way of traveling back into Gaza. So now they’re sleeping in the halls of Al Makassed, afraid of being stopped by police outside hospital walls. 

Children’s clothes and bedding hang from the window of every room. And in the hospital’s back lot, Al Makassed staffers set up two prefab mobile homes equipped with toilets and showers, courtesy of the Bank of Palestine. They’re planning to install two more.

Wael Namel, a 26-year-old father writhing in pain at Al Makkased, was wounded in a surprise F-16 attack while walking the streets of Rafah with nine family members during a temporary cease-fire. That day, after Israeli combat soldier Hadar Goldin disappeared in Rafah — at the time a suspected captive of Hamas — Israel bombarded the civilian-filled area in an attempt to halt the abduction.

After the attack was over, Goldin was declared dead — as were at least 100 Palestinians, including Namel’s brother and sister. He and his 3-year-old daughter each lost a leg; his wife, now hospitalized in Hebron in the West Bank, lost both legs.

In the ambulance en route to East Jerusalem, Namel said he noticed a sheet with an Israeli flag pattern covering his contorted lower half. Despite his condition, he said, he “threw it off.”

“I also refused to go to Egypt” for treatment, Namel said. “I’m angry at Egypt [and Israel] because they’re just surrounding Gaza.”

Israeli hospitals have been more hesitant than Palestinian ones to invite reporters to the bedsides of their Gaza patients. At Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon on Aug. 26, two IDF soldiers guarded a Palestinian man named Mohammed whom they said had been picked up in Gaza, near the border fence, by the IDF’s all-Bedouin unit.

The hospital said that in order to interview Mohammed, the Journal would need permission from the IDF. The IDF then said the Journal would need permission from COGAT, who again said the Journal would need permission from the IDF. 

After an hour of run-around, it was clear no interview would happen.

The apparent reason: Everyone at Barzilai seemed to suspect Mohammed to be a Palestinian militant. “I think he’s from Hamas,” one woman staffer said. A Red Cross representative referred to him as a “terrorist” on a phone call with a hospital official. And two Israeli teenagers stuck their heads into his room, yelling simply, “Hamas!”

Here, at this squat ocean-view hospital in Israel’s largest city adjacent to Gaza, thin walls separate suspected Palestinian militants from Israeli soldiers and Bedouins injured by Hamas mortars. Also on Aug. 26, dozens of lightly injured and in-shock Ashkelon residents, their faces like ghosts, streamed into the emergency room after an unusually large Hamas rocket hit a residential area. 

It was also at Barzilai that a 75-year-old woman from the Khan Younis area of southeast Gaza was treated for about a week during the war, after IDF soldiers found her starved and dehydrated under a tree and brought her to the Erez field hospital.

“At the beginning she was very suspicious, but after that, she let the crew take care of her and treat her,” Inbar said.

And when a field hospital commander came to visit the woman at Barzilai, Inbar said, “She was very glad and happy to see him again. She didn’t stop hugging him and kissing him and thanking him for saving her life, and for the treatment she received from the IDF.”

Inbar said of the encounter: “Everyone was angry with me, asking why I didn’t bring journalists to see. But I think that would be kind of a propaganda thing.”

The Khan Younis woman’s stay in Israel has become something of a legend back home in Gaza, too.  

“She got tired, and she found a tree,” said Rasan Abu Jela, a friend of the woman’s son. “She was sitting in the shade when a tank arrived, and soldiers gave her some food. Then they came back after two to three days, and she was still there. So the Israeli army took her to Israel.” 

Is Israel’s longest, bloodiest Gaza war over?


A rocket barrage fell on Israel, a boom sounded over Tel Aviv and then it was over — at least for now.

After 50 days of missiles, airstrikes, ground operations, tunnel incursions, truce talks, cease-fire proposals, death and destruction, Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended truce on Tuesday.

The cease-fire announced by Egypt stipulates that Israel and Egypt will open all border crossings to allow international humanitarian aid and construction materials to enter the Gaza Strip.

The agreement requires Israel and Hamas to cease hostilities but, according to reports, does not include commitments to allow an international airport and seaport in Gaza. After a month, should the quiet hold, Israel and Hamas will restart indirect negotiations in Cairo on easing Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip and disarming the enclave.

The end of the operation should not include “any significant political achievements for Hamas, which is a terrorist organization which doesn’t accept our existence here,” said Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister.

‪Livni added that the truce should be “part of an overall accord with those who seek peace.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had not spoken publicly or released a statement about the cease-fire as of press time. Two days prior, though, during a Cabinet meeting, he said: “We embarked on Operation Protective Edge in order to restore quiet and security to you and to all Israeli citizens. The more determined and patient we are, the more our enemies will understand that they will not succeed in wearing us down.”

The agreement is the culmination of Egyptian-led cease-fire efforts that have been ongoing throughout the conflict. Earlier this month, Israel and Hamas had agreed to a string of temporary cease-fires. The lull ended with Hamas rocket fire on Israel last week.

The fighting is Israel’s third major conflict with Hamas since 2008, following conflicts in 2008–09 and 2012. This one, however, was the longest and costliest between the sides since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.


Relatives of three Palestinian boys killed by an Israeli airstrike visiting their bodies at the morgue of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Aug. 21. Photo by Emad Nassar/Flash90

More than 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis died in the latest conflict, which wounded more than 10,000 Gazans and 500 Israelis, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Also, 20 Palestinians died in protests in the West Bank against Israel’s operation, according to a report in the Guardian.

The fighting created ghost towns across Israel’s South and devastated Gaza, destroying thousands of homes. Israeli forces delivered a punishing blow to Hamas during the conflict, with airstrikes destroying thousands of rockets and ground troops eliminating much of its tunnel infrastructure both under the Israel-Gaza border and across Gaza.

Last week, an Israeli airstrike killed three senior Hamas commanders. The chief of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, may have been killed in a separate attack last week.

Israel’s aggressive military tactics, along with a high Palestinian civilian death toll, drew widespread international criticism. Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council said it would send a fact-finding mission to investigate possible war crimes committed during the fighting. Israel has indicated that it likely would not cooperate with the investigation, alleging anti-Israel bias.

Even the United States, an Israel ally, issued harsh criticism following an Israeli airstrike that hit a United Nations school on Aug. 3, and tightened its controls on weapons shipments to Israel. American assistance to Israel continued during the conflict, though, as the U.S. approved an added $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. “strongly supports” the cease-fire.

“We view this as an opportunity, not a certainty,” Psaki said, according to reports. “Today’s agreement comes after many hours and days of negotiations and discussions. But certainly there’s a long road ahead. And we’re aware of that and we’re going into this eyes wide open.”

Hamas saw many of its attempted attacks on Israel frustrated. Iron Dome intercepted nearly all of the rockets Hamas aimed at city centers, and the Israel Defense Forces stopped Hamas’ infiltrations into Israel close to the border.

Nevertheless, Hamas killed 64 Israeli soldiers in Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza — the highest death toll for Israel since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 — in addition to six civilians.


Palestinians viewing a building in Gaza City witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on Aug. 26. Photo by Emad Nassar/Flash90

Despite being ineffective, Hamas rockets proved to have an increasingly long range — mortar fire reached nearly all of Israel for the first time. While residents of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were able to largely carry on with life under the protection of Iron Dome, they found themselves running for shelter daily at the sound of warning sirens, an experience that had previously been largely confined to southern Israel.

And Hamas rocket fire last month on central Israel led a number of international airlines to cancel flights to and from Israel for two days, leaving Israelis feeling isolated. The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority instituted a 24-hour ban on flights to Israel, which some criticized as unwarranted. Hamas celebrated the cancellations in a statement Tuesday as an “air blockade.”

The conflict began on July 8 following a barrage of Hamas rockets on Israel. Tensions between the sides had risen after Hamas operatives in the West Bank kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens on June 12. Israeli troops swept the West Bank in the ensuing weeks, arresting hundreds of Hamas members, according to Israel. The July 2 kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen, who was burned alive by a group of Israeli extremists in a likely revenge attack, further stoked the flames.

Israel began its campaign with airstrikes across Gaza, targeting Hamas weapons and infrastructure but also killing hundreds of civilians. But following Hamas attempts to infiltrate Israel by tunnel and sea, Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza on July 17 that lasted two weeks.

The ground operation ended as Israel and Hamas agreed to the first in a string of temporary cease-fires. During the calm, the sides engaged in Egyptian-mediated negotiations begun early in the conflict on a long-term truce. But the talks ended Aug. 19 without an agreement as Hamas resumed rocket fire.

As in previous conflicts, a vast majority of Israelis supported the operation, with 95 percent of Israeli Jews in favor, according to the Israel Democracy Institute. But the conflict also opened divisions within Israel’s governing coalition, as more hawkish ministers called for the IDF to deal a harsher blow to Hamas and opposed the various cease-fires. Residents of the South, who have withstood rocket fire for more than a decade, also have called for a continued operation.

“Any concession to Hamas is a surrender to terrorism,” Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni said Tuesday, according to Haaretz. “The residents of the South wanted to see this campaign resolved, but that will probably not happen.”

In the new Middle East, an embarrassment of evils


One of the crazy things about following the Middle East is trying to keep track of all the bad guys. Remember when Iran was the big bad Islamic wolf? Or al-Qaida? Or Hezbollah? Or the Muslim Brotherhood? Or Hamas?

Now, as if in a flash, along comes ISIS to become the evil flavor of the month. Seriously, how much evil can one region generate?

A screenwriter couldn’t make up such a cocktail of hatred. Just for starters, you have Shias against Sunnis, Persians against Arabs, Arabs against Turks, Turks against Persians, Iraqis against insurgents, Syrians against insurgents, insurgents against insurgents, Lebanese against Syrians, Egyptians against Qataris, Saudis against Iran — and everyone against the Jews.

I’ll leave it to the scholars to explain how each shade of evil differs from the next. I know that a lot of people these days are into the “Who’s worse? Hamas or ISIS?” game, but from where I sit, whether you chop people’s heads off or hide behind children to murder other children, evil is evil.

Even that old standby, “the enemy of your enemy is my friend,” doesn’t really hold up anymore. Just look at ISIS and Syria.

One of the sworn enemies of ISIS just happens to be … yeah, the biggest murderer of the new century, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who’s responsible for the deaths of nearly 200,000 of his own people.

I know ISIS is the height of evil, but can I really cheer for that Syrian butcher against anybody?

Same with the Jew-hating Holocaust deniers in Iran – they also hate ISIS. Aside from the fact that we belong to the same species, do I really want to have anything in common with the nuclear mullahs of Persia—even if it’s a common enemy?

It’s hard to fathom that one of the nastiest, Jew-hating threats to Israel – Hezbollah – could now be fighting in Syria against one of the nastiest, Jew-hating threats to Israel—ISIS.

Consider also Saudi Arabia, presumably in the “moderate” camp of the Mideast jungle. We’re now supposed to be buddy-buddies with the Saudi royalty because they’re the enemies of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. But wait. Guess who for years has been funding the most violent strains of Islam in the region? That’s right, the Ferrari-driving House of Saud.

Those turkeys are surely coming home to roost.

The craziness is everywhere. Remember when the Muslim Brotherhood was running the show in Egypt and helping smuggle lethal weaponry to their Hamas brothers in Gaza? Well, the Brotherhood became so hated in Egypt that most of them are now in jail. So, guess who’s now Egypt’s sworn enemy? That’s right, Hamas, the sworn enemy of Israel.

Of course, the Egyptian people are not exactly crowding into Tahrir Square to cheer on the Zionist army as it fights Hamas. But cheering privately? Highly likely.

We saw another example of the new Middle East craziness a few weeks ago when Egypt first tried to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

On one side you had Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and (yes!) Israel—all sworn enemies of Hamas– and on the other side you had Turkey, Qatar and (yes!) the United States. Why would the U.S. be on the “wrong” side?

The best analysis I’ve read is that President Obama is obsessed with closing a nuclear deal with Iran, and since the Egyptian-led coalition is strongly opposed to Iran, Obama was reluctant to poke Iran in the eye by empowering the anti-Iran coalition on any issue.

In any event, now that ISIS has crossed the line by beheading an American journalist, Obama is facing some serious cognitive dissonance: Should he align with the evil mullahs of Iran or the butcher of Damascus against the evil killers of ISIS, at least covertly? Good luck with that one.

I knew things were getting hairy when I asked my daughter in Tel Aviv how she was holding up with all the latest Hamas rockets, and she replied: “We’re worried about ISIS now.”

This is what the new Middle East has come down to– an embarrassment of evils. ISIS may be a new brand of evil, but when I look at longtime murderous entities like Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran or Syria, all I can think is: Pick your poison, folks.

If a sinister game designer wanted to create a new video game to capture what’s going on right now in the Middle East jungle, that’s a good name right there: “Pick your poison.”

There wouldn’t be any good guys in this game– just an orgy of bad guys. The whole fun would be in deciding who the baddest guy is at any moment, and knocking down as many of these guys as possible.

The ultimate goal would be to take down the baddest “bad guy” of them all, the one the whole world really hates: Israel.

BREAKING: Israeli police confirm rocket fired from Gaza landed in Southern Israel


Rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel two hours before the deadline of a 72-hour cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

One rocket exploded Wednesday night in an unpopulated area of the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, The Jerusalem Post reported. No damage or injuries were reported. Rocket sirens sounded in Ashkelon and surrounding areas.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army massed more troops along the Gaza border on Wednesday as the midnight deadline neared for the end of the temporary truce.

A news conference expected to be held by the Palestinian delegation to truce talks in Cairo at 9:30 p.m. reportedly was delayed until further notice.

Earlier Wednesday, the United States said it wanted a long-term cease-fire secured between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, but would settle for extending the temporary truce launched at midnight Monday if negotiators in the Egyptian capital cannot reach a larger accord by the deadline.

President Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu by phone on Wednesday, urging Netanyahu to reach an agreement that would end the violence.

According to Israel’s Channel 2, the Israeli team returned home from the indirect negotiations in Cairo.

Israelis, Palestinians begin new talks to end Gaza war


Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed indirect talks mediated by Egypt on Monday on ending a month-old Gaza war, Egypt's state news agency said, after a new 72-hour truce appeared to be holding.

The Israeli military said one rocket was launched at the Tel Aviv area, in Israel's commercial heartland, before the cease-fire began at 2100 GMT on Sunday and may have landed in the sea. Gaza's dominant Hamas group said it fired the missile.

A senior Israeli government official had said on Sunday Israeli negotiators, who had left Cairo on Friday hours before a previous three-day ceasefire expired, would return to Egypt to resume the talks only if the new truce held.

Hamas is demanding an end to Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the Gaza Strip and the opening of a seaport in the enclave – a project Israel says should be dealt with only in any future talks on a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians.

A month of war has killed 1,938 Palestinians and 67 Israelis while devastating wide tracts of densely populated Gaza, and Egypt's Foreign Ministry has urged both sides to work towards “a comprehensive and lasting cease-fire agreement”.

Gaza hospital officials say the Palestinian death toll has been mainly civilian since the July 8 launch of Israel's military campaign to quell Gaza rocket fire.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians, while heavy losses among civilians and the destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza have drawn international condemnation.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the new negotiations would be “the last chance” for an agreement. Israeli representatives are not meeting face-to-face with the Palestinian delegation because it includes Hamas, which Israel regards as a terrorist organization.

LONG-TERM TRUCE

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a radio interview on Monday that disarming Gaza militants was crucial to sustain a long-term truce and he hoped this could be done by diplomacy rather than force.

“I certainly hope that there will be a diplomatic solution. If there will not be a diplomatic solution, I am convinced that sooner or later we will have to opt for a military solution of taking temporary control of Gaza to demilitarize it again,” he told Israel Radio.

Another sticking points in the Cairo talks has been Israel's demand for guarantees that Hamas would not use any reconstruction supplies sent to Gaza to build tunnels of the sort Palestinian fighters have used to infiltrate Israel.

Hamas has demanded an end to the economically stifling blockade of the enclave imposed by both Israel and Egypt, which also sees the Islamist movement as a security threat.

Israel has resisted easing access to Gaza, suspecting Hamas could then restock with weapons from abroad.

According to the United Nations, at least 425,000 displaced people in the Gaza Strip are in emergency shelters or staying with host families. Nearly 12,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli attacks.

In Gaza, shops began to open and traffic was normal as some displaced families returned to the homes they had been forced to abandon during Israeli attacks, expressing hopes that this truce would last after a series of failed ceasefires.

“God knows if it is permanent,” said Abu Salama, a resident of Gaza's Shejaia district, as he and his family headed home on a donkey cart. “A truce, no truce, it is becoming like Tom and Jerry. We want a solution,” he said.

TURKISH SHIPS

The new three-day cease-fire won praise from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who hoped it might lead to a durable cease-fire.

Israeli air strikes and shelling on Sunday killed nine Palestinians in Gaza, medics said, in a third day of renewed fighting since the last truce ended.

One air strike destroyed the home of Gaza City's mayor, Nezar Hijazi, across the street from the Reuters bureau where reporters and cameramen took cover as the explosion occurred. There were no casualties in the attack because Israel telephoned warnings to residents in the house and neighboring buildings.

The Israeli military said it targeted 11 “terror squads” in Gaza, among them gunmen involved in or preparing to fire rockets.

Since the previous ceasefire expired, Palestinian rocket and mortar salvoes have focused on Israeli towns and communities near the Gaza frontier in what seemed a strategy of sapping morale without triggering another ground invasion of Gaza.

Residents of those communities, who had been assured by the military they could return home when last week's truce began, have accused Israeli authorities of misleading them.

Israeli tanks and infantry left the enclave on Tuesday after the army said it had completed its main mission of destroying more than 30 tunnels dug by militants for cross-border attacks.

Four wounded Palestinians were flown into Ankara for medical treatment on Monday, the first sign of Turkey's promised plan to evacuate thousands from the Gaza Strip.

A Turkish aid group said it would send ships again to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza, four years after Israeli commandos stormed its flotilla bound for the Palestinian territory and killed 10 people in fighting with activists on board.

Gaza cease-fire holding on second day, talks under way


A Gaza cease-fire was holding on Wednesday as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives on an enduring end to a war that has devastated the Islamist Hamas-dominated enclave.

Egypt's intelligence chief met a Palestinian Authority delegation in Cairo, the state news agency MENA said, a day after he conferred with Israeli representatives. The Palestinian team, led by an official from Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party, includes envoys from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.

“The indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israelis are moving forward,” one Egyptian official said, making clear that the opposing sides were not meeting face to face. “It is still too early to talk about outcomes but we are optimistic.”

Israel's delegation to the talks arrived in Cairo later on Wednesday, sources at the airport in the Egyptian capital said.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told reporters his country was working hard for a deal and sought “solutions to protect the Palestinian people and their interests.”

But a senior official with Hamas's armed wing said the group may quit the Cairo talks if progress was not made toward meeting its main demands to lift a blockade on Gaza and free Palestinian prisoners.

“Unless the conditions of the resistance are met the negotiating team will withdraw from Cairo and then it will be up to the resistance in the field,” a senior commander of Hamas's armed wing told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Israel's military chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said in televised remarks that should Hamas disrupt the calm “we will not hesitate to continue to use our force wherever necessary and with whatever force necessary to ensure the security of Israeli citizens near and far.”

Egyptian and Palestinian sources said they expected an initial response by Israel to the Palestinian demands, which it has so far shown no signs of accepting, later on Wednesday.

Israel withdrew ground forces from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning and started a 72-hour Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with Hamas as a first step towards a long-term deal.

It showed signs of expecting the truce to last by lifting official emergency restrictions on civilians living in the country's south, permitting more public activities and urging everyone to resume their routines.

Streets in towns in southern Israel, which had been under daily rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, were filled again with playing children. The military said that a rocket-warning siren that sounded in the south in the afternoon was a false alarm.

In Gaza, where some half-million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents left U.N. shelters to trek back to neighbourhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fills the air.

BLOCKADE

Palestinians want an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on impoverished Gaza and the release of prisoners, including those Israel arrested in a June crackdown in the occupied West Bank after three Jewish seminary students were kidnapped and killed.

Israel has resisted those demands.

“For Israel the most important issue is the issue of demilitarisation. We must prevent Hamas from rearming, we must demilitarise the Gaza Strip,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Reuters television.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview on the BBC's HARDtalk programme, also spoke of a need for Hamas to decommission its rocket arsenal.

“What we want to do is support the Palestinians and their desire to improve their lives and to be able to open crossings and get food in and reconstruct and have greater freedom,” Kerry said.

“But that has to come with a greater responsibility towards Israel, which means giving up rockets, moving into a different plane,” he said.

Kerry said, however, all this would “finally come together” as part of wider Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts that he has spearheaded but which have been frozen since April over Israel's opposition to a unity deal between Hamas and Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, has ruled out giving up its weapons.

HUMANITARIAN AID

An Israeli official, who declined to be identified, said Israel wanted humanitarian aid to flow to the Palestinian enclave's 1.8 million inhabitants as soon as possible.

But, the official said, the import of cement – vital for reconstruction – would depend on achieving guarantees that it would not be used by militants to construct more infiltration tunnels leading into Israel and other fortifications.

Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,867 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket launches.

An Israeli opinion poll, conducted after the cease-fire went into effect, said Israelis, while not regarding the Gaza war as a victory for their country's powerful military, remained highly supportive of Netanyahu.

According to the poll in the Haaretz newspaper, 51 percent of those surveyed said neither side won, while 36 percent believe that Israel emerged victorious. Six percent said Hamas was the victor.

Of the 442 people who took part in the poll, 77 percent described Netanyahu's performance during the war as excellent or good.

Efforts to turn the cease-fire into a lasting truce could prove difficult, with the sides far apart on their central demands, and each rejecting the other's legitimacy. Hamas rejects Israel's existence and vows to destroy it, while Israel denounces Hamas as a terrorist group and eschews any ties.

Egypt has positioned itself as a mediator in successive Gaza conflicts but, like Israel, its current administration views Hamas as a security threat.

Besides the loss of life, the war has cost both sides economically. Gaza faces a massive $6-billion price tag to rebuild devastated infrastructure. Israel has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism and other sectors and fears cuts in overall economic growth this year as well.

Palestinian officials said a donor conference to raise funds for Gaza's reconstruction would be held in Oslo next month.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Maggie Fick in Cairo; Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Giles Elgood and Sonya Hepinstall

The fury (and boredom) of war: Battlefield stories of courage, fear and frustration from Gaza


On a blistering afternoon in southern Israel on Aug. 4, about eight miles from Gaza at the intersection of Highway 25 and Highway 34, soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took cover in the shade of a makeshift rest stop — one of dozens set up throughout the south during the recent war in Gaza.

In the cool shade of a tent, around 100 armed and uniformed soldiers browsed tables full of donated books, clothes and toiletries. They heaped buffet food onto disposable plates and listened to Hebrew dance music that a Chasidic group was blasting from a nearby van.

“Here I am — I’m the one who causes the trauma in Gaza,” said Avi, a 35-year-old combat soldier splayed on a bean-bag chair, waiting for his turn on a massage table.

“What can I do?” he asked, grazing a hand over his buzz cut. “I must protect my people.”

Most soldiers at the rest stop were hesitant to talk to a reporter, especially a foreigner, while in uniform — and all who did grant interviews insisted that their full names not be published. But they were also eager to contradict the perception around the world that they belong to an army of baby-killers.

“I don’t want to kill children,” insisted a stubbly reserve soldier in his 30s who lives in Bitha, a nearby border town. “I fight for my life and my own children; they’re afraid when Hamas shoots the rockets.”

Israeli combat soldiers wait for orders on the border between Gaza and Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Photos by Simone Wilson

The soldiers who spoke to the Journal said they were fighting a war that needed to be fought, but — as the fighting appeared to be winding down — they said they wished the IDF had taken a bolder approach.

“We need [Russian President Vladimir] Putin for four days, to take the war to the sea and finish,” Avi said, grinning.

As of press time on Aug. 5, as a 72-hour cease -fire appeared to hold and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to end the month-long war were being held in Egypt, both sides were claiming victory — even as Gaza health officials had counted 1,865 Palestinians among the victims of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. According to the United Nations, around 75 percent of Gaza’s casualties are civilians, 30 percent of them children.

(Israelis assert those numbers have been tabulated by Hamas operatives on the ground and are, therefore, not trustworthy.)

Some soldiers have been stationed along the Gaza border for weeks, their cars gathering dust in the sun. 

In the same time period, three Israeli civilians died from rocket and mortar fire aimed into Israel from Gaza, and 64 Israeli soldiers were killed in battle — about half the IDF toll of the second Lebanon War.

“We know the field better than Lebanon, because we look at Gaza all the time,” said Avi, who has fought in Israel’s past three ground wars. “I’ve been training for this my whole life.”

Avi said that since the ground phase of the operation began on July 17, he has entered Gaza every few days on a mission to find and destroy underground tunnels snaking from Gaza into Israel, as well as other military infrastructure built by Hamas, the extremist organization that runs the Gaza Strip. 

After the IDF issues an evacuation notice for a certain neighborhood, Avi said he and other fighters from his unit, the elite Golani Brigade, enter Gaza inside one of the IDF’s new Merkava 4 tanks. (The tanks, fresh to this war, are equipped with a sort of mini Iron Dome that can deflect Hamas’ anti-tank missiles.)

Avi’s unit usually enters in the night, he said, and eliminates any perceived threat in their path with a barrage of artillery shells.

“If they have an obstacle, they completely destroy the obstacle with artillery,” said a 33-year-old reserve soldier who would identify himself only as “D.” Throughout the ground operation, D was stationed at his division’s command center in Ashkelon, a large Israeli city north of Gaza.

An IDF spokesperson told the Journal that Hamas “deploys in residential areas, creating rocket launch sites, command and control centers, and other positions deep in the heart of urban areas. By doing so, Hamas chooses the battleground where the IDF is forced to operate.”

The IDF also printed photos online of a manual it claimed to have found in Gaza, belonging to Hamas’ Shujaiya Brigade. It laid out the benefits of operating in a dense urban area. Destruction of civilian homes, it said, “increases the hatred of the citizens toward the attackers [the IDF] and increases their gathering around the city defenders [Hamas].”

Avi, the Golani combat soldier, said he often has trouble distinguishing civilians from Hamas fighters while inside Gaza, as some fighters are dressed in plainclothes. “You see everything in green … little green people,” he said of his view through night-vision goggles.

“The IDF must take care of their soldiers before they take care of Palestinian civilians,” Avi said. “If this means to kill civilians, then OK.”

Many soldiers and IDF analysts have confirmed this policy, including Yaron Ezrahi, a professor of political science at Hebrew University. “Israel is more sensitive than any other country in the West to the death of its soldiers,” Ezrahi told the Daily Beast. “The death of [Palestinian] civilians is a moral crisis but is without political impact.”

The IDF claims it does everything within its power to avoid civilian casualties: It drops paper evacuation notices by airplane and sends text messages notifying residents to leave areas it plans to raid for terrorist infrastructure.

Hamas has been known to discourage residents from heeding evacuation orders. But even those Gaza residents willing to leave their homes say that because Israel’s assault is so widespread — by air, land and sea — it’s not always clear which areas are safest. United Nations schools serving as shelters for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are overcrowded, and have recently been caught in fatal crossfire. “No place is safe in Gaza,” Mamoun Sulaiman, a Gaza resident and press fixer, said over the phone. 

The army also chopped the inhabitable area within Gaza’s tiny land mass almost in half when the ground operation began, creating a buffer zone for Israeli soldiers that consumes 40 percent of the whole strip.

“It is unrealistic for such a huge number of people to evacuate,” Mohammed Suliman, a Gaza City resident who writes and tweets extensively about the terror inside Gaza, told the Journal. “They don’t have another place to go.”

Because many of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents are stuck in the battle zone, the world has witnessed horrific mass killings — entire families wiped out — in densely populated Gaza neighborhoods like Shujaiya, Khuza’a and Rafah. And as a result, Israeli soldiers have come under intense scrutiny as individuals.

Anti-Israel outrage went viral when an IDF soldier named David Ovadia posted, “I killed 13 childrens today and ur next f—ing musilims [sic]…” in response to a Palestinian woman’s Instagram photo. According to Israel’s Mako news site, Ovadia eventually broke down under interrogation from his commanders and admitted to fabricating the story.

“The actions of the soldier are serious,” an IDF official told Mako, “and he has caused the dishonoring of the IDF soldiers fighting in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge, who work all day to protect the citizens of Israel.” Ovadia was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

“Believe me, there are soldiers here who completely hate Arabs — they don’t care, they’ll kill them,” said “M,” a 22-year-old Lone Soldier from South Carolina hanging out at the rest stop. “They’re in that mentality because [Arabs] have so much hate for us. But the army takes special measures to make sure civilians don’t get hurt … and if [Israeli soldiers] were to do anything, they would get in trouble. Major, major trouble.”

Another amateur video from Gaza appeared to show Shujaiya resident Salem Shamaly shot dead by a sniper while searching through rubble and calling out for his family members. (An IDF spokesperson told the Journal that “given the current scope of the operation, there is no way at this time to confirm the circumstances depicted” in the video.)

Soldiers who served in Shujaiya said they weren’t sure what exactly happened in Shamaly’s case, but that anyone who wandered near their outpost could have been deemed a threat.

M, a member of the Golani Brigade, said he was sent into Shujaiya for three full days last week. “The last day we were there, civilians started coming back to their homes, not knowing that [we were still there],” he said. “A few hours later, Israel actually allowed them to come back. But they came a little bit early, and they’re not allowed to get close to us.”

Although M wouldn’t say whether his unit fired at anyone, he said their commander had told them to first fire warning shots in the air, then shoot directly at a person if he or she didn’t retreat.

M described the intense adrenaline he felt while roving around the Shujaiya neighborhood as his unit located and destroyed a dense cluster of Hamas tunnels — of some 32 that Israel has discovered so far — while watching for Hamas gunmen popping out of windows or from underground bunkers.

By night, M said, he would sleep either inside his armored vehicle or in the home of a Palestinian family that had fled to a safer area.

Asked if that was an odd experience for him, M said he was in a completely different mode on the battlefield: “You’re so worn out that you don’t really think about what’s going on. You just think about what’s going to happen if somebody fires. It’s just crazy.”

On the third night of the IDF’s ground operation, and the first night in Shujaiya, a tank carrying Los Angeles Lone Soldier Max Steinberg and six other Golani soldiers ran over an explosive that Hamas had planted in the road, killing all inside. After that, M, a tank driver himself, said he’d been avoiding all main roadways and watching for any abnormal bumps in the tank’s path.

Many IDF soldiers fighting in Gaza, as well as residents of the agricultural villages along its border, say their nightmare scenario would be for Hamas militants to take them hostage — a repeat of the Gilad Shalit kidnapping in 2006.

“It’s scary to think about it, because they pop out of nowhere — they have a lot of tunnels,” M said of the possibility of a Hamas abduction. “We had a lot of instances where they popped out and shot RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] at my tank.”

Evie Steinberg, mother of Max Steinberg, said her son once told her that if he were to be snatched by Hamas — Evie’s “worst fear” — he would kill himself before Hamas had the chance to use him as a bargaining chip.

For a brief period on Aug. 1, the IDF believed that an Israeli soldier, Hadar Goldin, had been captured by Hamas. However, Goldin was declared dead after intense bombardment of the Rafah neighborhood where he disappeared, which also killed dozens of Palestinians caught in the surprise attack.

Thousands of Israelis attend a funeral at the Kfar Saba military cemetery for Hadar Goldin, 23, who was briefly believed to be a captive of Hamas.

At Goldin’s funeral, Yoav, 17, a friend of the fallen soldier, said it was painful to read online what the world was saying about Goldin and other IDF soldiers fighting against Hamas. “It’s difficult because you know these people — your friends, your big brother — and you know they’re very good people and they don’t want to hurt kids,” he said.

Although each soldier’s individual experience varied from the others’, many mentioned that fighting in an age of heightened social-
media use posed new challenges in the field. They described being in the middle of a heated battle when news of war casualties shot across the Internet, prompting immediate responses from world leaders — which would then translate into orders of “hold fire” or “pull back.”

“If I go, I want to go — not go, go back, go, go back,” Avi said. 

D, based at an Ashkelon command center, said: “Because of the diplomatic world, [Hamas] has an advantage. Immediately after a school shooting, the army makes a call and tells you to stop shooting in the middle of battle.”

Artillery shelling has killed dozens and injured hundreds at three U.N. school shelters since the ground operation began. In one incident on July 30, thin mats on the ground were soaked in blood where refugees had been sleeping when the shells hit. (The IDF said Hamas militants had fired a mortar from near the school and that Israeli soldiers had been forced to return fire.)

“Some came after leaflets were dropped on their areas, others came after their homes were destroyed by Israel, and they thought that they would be safe in a United Nations-run school,” said Sharif Kouddous, a correspondent for Democracy Now! “They were wrong.”

The third school shelling, on Aug. 3, which the U.N. said hit refugees in a bread line outside the shelter, elicited the strongest response from U.S. officials since the war began. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was “appalled” by the “disgraceful shelling.”

The IDF has countered the criticism by saying that Hamas often stores rockets in U.N. facilities and fires on Israeli troops from nearby.

“You can sit back in the neon lights and judge easily,” D said. “When you’re actually inside, you’re in contact with the enemy. It’s not clean.”

Various reserve soldiers who fought in Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza, said Hamas fighters are now more skilled than before — some almost to the level of Hezbollah fighters — and have fully utilized their extensive underground network in battle.

“They expected us,” Avi said.

On top of the great human loss inside Gaza, there has also been unprecedented destruction of homes and public buildings: Entire neighborhoods now look like the charred remains of a campfire. Detached mosque minarets stick out of the rubble like broken bones. 

Asmaa al-Ghoul, a columnist for Al Monitor and a fierce Hamas critic, wrote that her relatives were crushed to death when two F-16s hit their house in the Rafah refugee camp. “Now, the house and its future memories have been laid to waste, its children taken to early graves,” she wrote. “Homes and recollections bombed into oblivion, their inhabitants homeless and lost, just as their camp always had been. Never ask me about peace again.”

Some analysts have accused the IDF of using a destruction-as-deterrence policy, known as the “Dahiya doctrine,” similar to that which was implemented in the 2006 second Lebanon War.

But Gabi Siboni, a former Golani commander and current IDF analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, told the Journal he sees Gaza’s fresh ruins not as a symbol of deterrence but as the remains of a war that aimed to protect the lives of Israeli soldiers at all costs. 

If anyone fires on the IDF, Siboni said, the IDF will retaliate with full force. And once an area is believed to be cleared of civilians, he said, the IDF has no obligation to go easy on buildings: “If there is no humanitarian constraint, there is no problem in holding your shelling as a commander, and you can continue to fire on the city and drop it down.”

At an army camp adjacent to Kibbutz Nahal Oz on a recent Tuesday, the whine of Israeli drones overhead was almost as strong as in the skies of Gaza. A pair of giant Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozers drove past the entrance to the kibbutz, leaving a billowing dust cloud on their path to Gaza. 

The bulldozers “go first, move the houses and the trees, and then we can come in after them,” said “S,” a young soldier charged with guarding Nahal Oz from infiltrators.

Just the day before, not far from Nahal Oz, at an army outpost surrounded by dried sunflowers, five soldiers had been killed in a successful Hamas infiltration that the militants caught on tape. Five more soldiers were then killed by mortar fire from over the fence.

S, who as he spoke was carrying nothing but his assault rifle for protection, said he wasn’t really sure what he’d do if the same happened near his post.

He said daily life at the IDF border camps was a strange combination of boring and nerve-racking. “Yesterday, there was action,” he said. “But we prefer to be bored here than have our people die.”

IDF soldiers lined up for the hot lunch buffet at a makeshift rest stop eight miles from Gaza.

Although thousands of ground troops had been sent home by Aug. 4, thousands more were still hanging out in their camps, carved out between dusty crops in Israel’s south.

One Golani camp in the middle of a cabbage patch could have been a scene from “M*A*S*H.” A small group of reservists in their 20s and 30s, their bare chests hung with silver dog tags, were kicked back beneath camouflage netting hung between two Vietnam-era U.S. Army trucks. In the truck beds were stacks of boxes labeled “DANGER” and “EXPLOSIVES.” A Ukrainian-Israeli soldier hanging out in one truck’s cab was being teased by his army buddies for missing his girlfriend, a Christian Palestinian woman who lives in the north. A burly guy they called “Rambo” was losing a game of Backgammon.

Soldiers at the camp said they had the feeling the war was almost over. And in both Israel and Gaza, relief ran high by the next afternoon, Aug. 5, as the first hours of a proposed 72-hour cease fire remained quiet.

“Israel has agreed to an unconditional cease fire,” an IDF spokesman told the Journal, adding that “any aggression, whether directed at our troops or at Israeli civilians, will be forcefully answered.”

The soldiers were told they’d be heading home soon. But some expressed mixed feelings about leaving without a guarantee that Hamas fighters would put down their rockets or stop digging tunnels in the long run. 

“It’s artificial, this diplomacy,” D said. “Let us do the job.”

Israel agrees to Egyptian proposal for Gaza ceasefire, official says


Israel agreed on Monday to an Egyptian proposal for a three-day ceasefire in a four-week-old Gaza war, to start at 0500 GMT (9 p.m. PST) on Tuesday, an Israeli official said.

“We agree to begin implementing the Egyptian initiative. If the cease-fire is upheld there will be no need for any presence of (Israeli) forces in the Gaza Strip,” said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Israeli media reports said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet had reached the decision in a round of phone calls.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Kevin Liffey

Palestinian factions reportedly agree to 72-hour cease-fire


Palestinian factions in Cairo reportedly agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire in the Gaza conflict.

During that period, Egyptian mediators will work to negotiate a truce between Israel and Hamas, as well as other groups firing rockets into Israel.

Israel did not officially confirm Monday’s cease-fire, which reportedly will begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday. On Monday, Israel observed a unilateral seven-hour humanitarian cease-fire.

Egypt has called on Israel to send a delegation to Cairo, where officials from Palestinian factions including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority gathered on Sunday night. Israel refused to attend the talks because of the collapse of previous cease-fire attempts.

On Monday, Egypt presented the Palestinians’ demands to Israel, which include an end to the blockade on Gaza of goods and people; the release of recently rearrested prisoners who had been freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange; the reconstruction of Gaza, including the port and the airport; and the extension of Palestinian fishing rights to 12 nautical miles.

Israel on Sunday began withdrawing troops from areas of Gaza after saying that its military had completed a main objective of the ground assault — the destruction of infiltration tunnels from Gaza into Israeli communities on the border with the coastal strip.

Israel, Palestinians accept Egypt’s 72-hour truce bid


Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement agreed on Monday to an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire to end four weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip, while Jerusalem was rocked by two attacks that appeared to be a backlash to the violence.

Egypt's plan called for a 72-hour-long truce to begin at 0500 GMT on Tuesday and then for representatives of Israeli and Palestinian factions to attend talks in Cairo to negotiate a longer-term agreement.

Palestinian groups, including envoys of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, met the head of Egyptian intelligence in Cairo earlier on Monday to formulate a plan to end the violence.

A few hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet agreed to accept Egypt's proposal, an official in his office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Israel has notified Egypt of its acceptance of its proposal for a ceasefire,” the official said.

Afterward, Hamas Islamists who dominate Gaza announced their agreement to the truce as well.

“Hamas told Egypt a short while ago of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 following a surge in Hamas rocket salvoes. It escalated from air and naval barrages to overland incursions centred on Gaza's tunnel-riddled eastern frontier, but also pushed into densely populated towns.

Gaza officials say 1,834 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed, and more than a quarter of the impoverished enclave's 1.8 million residents displaced. As many as 3,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers in combat and three civilians to Palestinian cross-border rocket and mortar fire that has emptied many of its southern villages. “Iron Dome” missile interceptors, air raid sirens and public shelters have helped stem Israeli casualties.

Tensions from the fighting seemed to spread on Monday to Jerusalem, where a Palestinian driving an excavator ran over and killed an Israeli and then overturned a bus in what police described as a terrorist or nationalistically motivated attack.

Israeli police shot the excavator driver dead; there were no passengers on the bus.

Several hours later, a gunman shot and wounded an Israeli soldier a short distance away before fleeing on a motorcycle, police said.

FAILED CEASE-FIRES

Several previous truces barely held with each side refusing to accept terms put by the other, while this time, Egypt plans to convene the parties in negotiations for a longer term deal.

Earlier on Monday, Palestinians said Israel had bombed a refugee camp in Gaza City, killing an eight-year-old girl and wounding 29 other people, in an air attack they said disrupted the start of a previous truce effort.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said there had been no air strikes in Gaza for seven hours on Monday, during which time Israel said it was abiding by a humanitarian ceasefire to free up aid and allow some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the war to go home.

Israel said Gaza militants continued firing rockets and mortars during the truce period. There were no reported casualties.

Italy said it was sending 30 tons of supplies, including tents, emergency generators and water purification kits, to ease living conditions in Gaza.

Media in Britain reported that a British aid worker was killed on Sunday during an Israeli strike in Rafah while he was delivering supplies to a hospital. The British Foreign Office said it was looking into the report.

The military was wrapping up the main objective of the ground assault, the destruction of cross-border infiltration tunnels from Gaza, and it has told residents of some towns they could return home.

A military spokeswoman said some forces were still in action inside Gaza, but the operation was drawing to a close. Media reports said troops had destroyed the last tunnel on their list of targets.

Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Rome; Editing by Giles Elgood, Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis

Israel, Palestinians locked in vicious circle of Gaza wars


When Israel ended its 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip by withdrawing settlers in 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hailed it as a “disengagement” from conflict with Palestinians in the densely populated coastal enclave.

But the conflict did not end, it only changed.

Israel kept expanding settlements in the West Bank where the Palestinians also seek a state. Hardline Islamists seized control of Gaza in 2007 and periodic U.S. efforts to broker a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under secular President Mahmoud Abbas have proved fruitless.

In the diplomatic vacuum, confrontation has festered.

Israel sealed Gaza in an economically choking blockade and the territory's ruling Hamas movement and other militant factions fired rockets with increasing frequency and range, though not accuracy, into the Jewish state.


A rocket is launched from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israel. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Israel in turn has bombarded Gaza countless times from the air and sent in armored columns on occasion to ferret out and destroy rocket batteries and tunnels used to smuggle in arms from Egypt or infiltrate Israel for guerrilla ambushes.

Mediated ceasefires under which Israel pulled out forces and rocket fire abated brought periods of relative calm, only for the two sides to relapse into bouts of bloodshed.

Conflict management has won out over peacemaking.

Israel's current Gaza incursion, in which it aims to cripple the Hamas rocket and tunnel threat before Western opprobrium over a soaring Palestinian civilian death toll boils over and forces it to pull back, echoes past offensives since 2007.


An Israeli army officer in a tunnel said to be used by Palestinian militants for cross-border attacks. Photo by Jack Guez/Reuters

At least 1,410 Palestinians had been killed in three weeks, mostly civilians in packed urban areas hammered by Israeli air strikes and shelling. The scale of destruction of Palestinian housing and infrastructure is greater than in past offensives.

Israel has lost 56 soldiers and three civilians who were hit by crashing rockets launched over the Gaza border.

As in previous Gaza wars, the toll of death and destruction has been lopsided because of Israel's huge superiority in state-of-the-art firepower and its Iron Dome missile defense shield, which has shot down most rockets streaking toward its cities.

But the broader strategic environment has changed, making it harder to prod Israel and Hamas into downing their weaponry.


An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in southern Israel on July 8. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Hamas feels cornered by its rift with Syria, cooler ties with Iran and the toppling of its Muslim Brotherhood patrons in Egypt. Israel, having spurned U.S. peacemaking efforts as ties with Washington turned frostier than for many years, has vowed a long battle if necessary to neutralize its Gaza adversary.

Unlike in the 2008-09 Gaza war, there has been no serious world pressure – beyond mild rebukes and U.N. remonstrations – to end the hostilities. The United States and the main European countries have underlined “Israel's right to defend itself.”

Major powers are distracted and divided by other crises over Russia's role in Ukraine, reawakening old Cold War antagonisms, and the stunning advance of jihadi insurgents in Iraq and Syria.

Middle East power brokers are polarized over how to stop the region's descent into disorder after “Arab Spring” revolts that overthrew long stable autocratic regimes.

Gaza truce talks are further complicated by the fact that Israel and the United States ostracize Hamas as a designated terrorist group that refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, while the intermediaries – Egypt, Qatar and Turkey – disagree over how much leeway to grant to Islamists.

Following is a comparison of the current Gaza conflict with two previous major outbreaks of war since 2007.

DECEMBER 2008-JANUARY 2009


An Israeli shell hit a UN school in Beit Lahia on Sept. 27, 2009 according to Human Rights Watch.

In what became the most deadly and destructive conflict over Gaza since Israel captured the wedge of territory in the 1967 Middle East war, the Israelis launched air strikes and artillery barrages on Dec. 27 and invaded with tanks and troops on Jan. 3.

The stated goal was to stop Islamist rocket fire into Israel and destroy cross-border tunnels used by militants to smuggle in arms from Egypt and stage ambushes inside the Jewish state.

The Palestinian death toll was 1,417, more than half of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis, 10 of them soldiers, were killed.

Israeli forces targeted Hamas bases, training camps and security premises. Civilian infrastructure including mosques, houses, medical centers and schools were also hit as alleged militant hideouts. Hamas rocket salvoes reached farther than before, hitting cities like Beersheba and Ashdod.

Israel declared a unilateral truce on Jan. 17 and Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other smaller militant factions followed suit a day later. The last Israeli forces left Gaza on Jan. 21.

Both sides claimed victory. Rocket fire from Gaza was reduced, though not eliminated. Israel's reputation, however, took a heavy hit with widespread criticism of the large number of civilian casualties and severe damage to Gaza infrastructure.


Hamas deployment in Gaza City in 2009. Photo from Official Publications by the State of Israel.

A U.N. fact-finding mission led by South African judge Richard Goldstone accused both Israel and Gaza militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity over alleged targeting of civilians and using them as human shields.

Israel refused to cooperate with the inquiry and denounced its conclusions as biased and flawed.

NOVEMBER 2012

Israeli forces stormed into Gaza on Nov. 14 after tit-for-tat clashes including an ambush of an Israeli border patrol and the killing of Hamas's military commander in an air strike.

A U.N. Human Rights Council report said 174 Palestinians were killed in three weeks of fighting, 107 of them civilians. Six Israelis were killed, four of them civilians in rocket fire on towns near the Gaza frontier.


An Israeli Iron Dome intercepts a rocket on Nov. 17, 2012. Photo by Emanuel Yellin

The Israeli military said it hit more than 1,500 rocket launchpads, weapons depots, Hamas government premises and other targets in Gaza. Hamas and its allies fired rockets at Tel Aviv, putting Israel's main city under air attack for the first time since 1991, when Saddam Hussein's Iraq fired Scud missiles.

Israel said over 400 rockets were intercepted by its Iron Dome shield. Many others landed in uninhabited areas.

A cease-fire was struck on Nov. 21, brokered by Egypt and the United States. Both sides, again, claimed victory. Israel said it had crippled Hamas's rocket-launching ability while Hamas said Israel's option of invading Gaza had ended.

JULY 2014

This year's war was triggered by events outside Gaza. Three Jewish seminary students kidnapped while hitch-hiking in the West Bank were found murdered. Israel blamed Hamas and rounded up hundreds of suspects. In revenge, Israelis abducted a Palestinian youth, killed him and burnt his body.


Teens murdered in Israel, from left: Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frankel and Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir

Palestinian protesters battled Israeli security police in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Gaza militants intensified rocket fire into Israel – and the war was on.

Israel began by bombarding Gaza targets, launching a ground offensive a week later when Hamas refused to stop firing.

Ground assaults on residential areas, preceded by warnings to evacuate, displaced more than 200,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians. Power and water supplies were crippled.

As before, controversy erupted over alleged indiscriminate Israeli barrages that killed entire families in their homes and hit two schools run by the U.N. refugee agency UNRWA, killing dozens of Palestinians in designated shelters.


Palestinians near a damaged classroom on July 30. Photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the carnage at the schools. U.N. officials in Gaza reported finding caches of rockets inside three other UNRWA schools.

As in the past, Israel said its forces did their utmost to avoid civilian casualties and accused Hamas of putting its people in harm's way by waging combat in their midst.

The United States and the U.N. Security Council have urged an immediate, unconditional ceasefire to allow humanitarian relief and talks on a durable cessation of hostilities.

The shelling of a U.N. facility in Gaza this week by the Israeli military is “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible” and Israel needs to do more to protect innocent civilians, a White House spokesman said on Thursday.

The Obama administration, however, has allowed Israel to tap a local U.S. arms stockpile to replenish grenade and mortar stocks depleted during its offensive, U.S. officials said.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, left, in Tel Aviv on July 28. Photo by Nir Elias/Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he would accept no truce that stopped Israel completing the destruction of militants' infiltration tunnels.

Both sides are setting truce terms harder to reconcile than in the past. Israel wants Gaza “demilitarized”, although that would be hard to enforce barring an indefinite re-occupation of the territory. Hamas is demanding an end to the Gaza blockade and the release of prisoners seized in the West Bank.

Editing by Paul Taylor

UPDATE: Israeli TV retracts report Gaza that cease-fire was agreed upon


An Israeli television station retracted its report on Tuesday that a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict had been agreed, saying instead there was “movement” toward a truce between Israel and the Palestinian territory's dominant Hamas Islamists being brokered by Egypt.

“A senior (Israeli) official has clarified that there is no agreement on a ceasefire,” said Channel Two, which had earlier quoted a senior official, also unnamed, saying there was a provisional deal in place.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Israeli concerns about Turkey and Qatar fuel dispute with Kerry


Behind the feud between John Kerry and Israel over the secretary of state’s efforts to broker a Gaza cease-fire is a larger tension concerning the role of Turkey and Qatar in Palestinian affairs.

Israeli officials rejected the proposal for a cease-fire advanced by Kerry in part because of what they see as the outsize influence on his diplomatic efforts of these two regional powers with agendas increasingly seen as inimical to Israeli interests. While both countries are traditional U.S. allies, they are also supportive of Hamas.

“Qatar, financially and politically, diplomatically and through Al Jazeera, is supporting a terrorist group,” an Israeli official told JTA. “Instead of contributing to the development of the area, they are contributing to terror in the region.”

Israeli officials point to the anti-Israel rhetoric of Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has reached new heights during the current conflict, with his suggestion that Israel is worse than the Nazis.

Israel prefers to have Egypt as the main interlocutor because the country’s current military-backed government has a deep antipathy toward the Islamist Hamas movement.

Israel had previously embraced an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that was rejected by Hamas, which saw its terms as decidedly unfriendly.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Middle East in Obama’s first term, said that Turkey and Qatar are necessary interlocutors because Hamas needs credible representatives of its interests in the negotiating process and because the two countries are not tempted to sabotage cease-fire efforts.

“I understand why Israel and Egypt are uncomfortable seeing regional actors friendly to Hamas involved in these talks. If they are not involved, they could spoil a cease-fire,” said Wittes, who is now the director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy. “You have to get them engaged so they have reason not to act in an unconstructive manner.”

Tensions between Israel and the Obama administration over Kerry’s cease-fire efforts escalated over the weekend.

In comments to the Israeli press by unnamed Israeli officials, Kerry was depicted as a hapless bumbler who, however unwittingly, seemed to be negotiating on behalf of Hamas.

U.S. officials have told Israeli and U.S. media that they are offended by the Israeli backlash.

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Israeli leaders to tone down the attacks on Kerry, saying such broadsides undermined Israel’s ability to face down its true enemy, Hamas.

“I understand there are disagreements between the United States and Israel, and maybe the secretary of state and Israel,” he said. “But those disagreements do not justify the ugly name calling. It undermines the relationship of the only true ally Israel has. In times of disagreement, one needs to embrace our friends.”

The exact nature of Kerry’s cease-fire proposal and how it came to be rejected by Israel’s Security Cabinet is not clear. But it is clear that the Security Cabinet’s eight ministers believed that it was tilted toward Hamas.

In a briefing for Israeli reporters, a senior American official is said to have argued that the document the Cabinet reviewed was simply one including the latest ideas for consideration and not a final draft.

Israeli officials, speaking anonymously to the Israeli media, have said they understood it as a final draft and that, in any case, even being asked to consider such a document was deeply unsettling.

Israelis say they were offended by the document’s detailed emphasis on what would be seen as wins for Hamas: Talks on opening borders and transfer of emergency funds to pay the salaries of employees in Gaza who had worked for the Hamas-led government and now are supposed to be incorporated into the Palestinian Authority under the recent Palestinian unity agreement.

Israel’s concerns, including the removal of rockets and missiles from Gaza and the destruction of a tunnel network that reaches inside Israel, were confined in the document to three words: “address security issues.”

There were also concerns, shared by Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Western European countries, that the proposal would strengthen Hamas at the expense of the P.A.

On Sunday night, President Obama called for an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a White House readout describing the phone call.

The readout nodded to Israeli concerns by reaffirming U.S. support for Egypt’s cease-fire efforts, while also stressing that Obama’s cease-fire call was building on Kerry’s efforts.

The readout also emphasized the importance of addressing Gaza’s economic plight, something that Hamas has made into a key precondition for a cease-fire.

“The President underscored the enduring importance of ensuring Israel’s security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority,” the readout said. “The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.”

 

Kerry urges Hamas to end conflict, has ‘constructive’ Egypt talks


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Hamas on Tuesday to pursue a negotiated end to its conflict with Israel after what he said were constructive talks with Egyptian officials about their cease-fire proposal.

After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose country has mediated in the Arab-Israeli conflict in the past, Kerry said there was still “work to do” to try to resolve conflict in which more than 600 people have died.

“Hamas has a fundamental choice to make and it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza,” Kerry told reporters in a joint appearance with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukri.

“The Egyptians have provided a framework and a forum for them to be able to come to the table to have a serious discussion together with other factions of the Palestinians.”

Hamas has already rejected the Egyptian initiative, saying the plan ignores its demands for the release of prisoners and for a more comprehensive lifting of an economic blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Egypt is deeply suspicious of Hamas because it is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement toppled by then army chief Sisi last year. Hamas has complained that Cairo froze it out of talks on the cease-fire proposal.

Cairo says it has consulted with all Palestinian factions.

Kerry, who earlier in the day met separately with Shukri and with Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby, stressed that after any cease-fire was achieved the parties would need to grapple with the underlying issues in their conflict.

“Just reaching a cease-fire, clearly, is not enough,” he said. “It is imperative that there be a serious engagement, discussion, negotiation, regarding the underlying issues and addressing all of the concerns that have brought us to where we are today.”

Tunnel vision: Why Hamas’ tunnels are the new front in the war with Israel


Until this latest war, if you asked most Israelis about the threat from Gaza, they would probably start talking about Hamas rockets.

But that has changed over the last few days of fighting, for two reasons: One, the much-heralded success of the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has all but neutralized Hamas’ rocket threat.

Two, and far more troubling for Israelis, they have woken up to the true extent of the subterranean threat from Gaza: the tunnels that snake underneath the densely populated coastal territory into Israel proper.

What do the tunnels look like?

The tunnels are hardly crude. With years of experience digging passageways under the Egypt-Gaza border to smuggle weapons, people and goods into the blockaded territory — including items as large as cars — Hamas knows how to burrow.

The tunnels discovered by the Israel Defense Forces are reinforced by concrete walls and ceilings. Some are 90 feet deep and extend more than a mile in length, terminating inside Israel not far from residential neighborhoods. Israeli troops have discovered phone lines, electricity wires, pulley systems and stockpiles of explosives and weapons in the tunnels.

Many of the tunnels have multiple branches and a multitude of exit points, which explains why the precise number the IDF says it has found keeps fluctuating. As of Tuesday, the number was 66 access shafts as part of 23 tunnels.

The tunnels begin inside buildings in Gaza, where digging easily can be hidden from outsiders, including the omnipresent Israeli drones that scrutinize goings-on in the coastal strip.

Their end points inside Israel are difficult to detect because the terminus often isn’t dug out until Hamas fighters are ready to pop up and perpetrate an attack. When the moment arrives, Hamas assailants dig the last few feet and emerge from the hole — heavily armed, usually well camouflaged and sometimes disguised as Israeli soldiers.

Why is this threat so significant?

Israel has yet to figure out an effective way to systematically address the multitude of threats the tunnels present.

Hamas could use them to kidnap Israeli soldiers or civilians, as it did with Gilad Shalit in 2006. Israeli troops have found Hamas infiltrators in recent days armed with tranquilizers and handcuffs for just such an operation, according to the IDF.

For its part, Hamas has made clear that one of its main goals is to execute a successful kidnapping. An abducted Israeli could be used to bargain for the release of Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons. That would give Hamas a way to demonstrate to its constituents that it can deliver for Palestinians and “resist the occupation” in a way that President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority cannot.

Infiltrators also could use the tunnels to sneak behind enemy lines and perpetrate attacks inside Israeli cities, towns or kibbutzim.

The “terror tunnels,” the IDF said in a statement, are meant “to carry out attacks such as abductions of Israeli civilians and soldiers alike; infiltrations into Israeli communities, mass murders and hostage-taking scenarios.”

With so many Israeli troops active in the area around Gaza, Hamas also is using the tunnels to ambush IDF soldiers. Four Israeli soldiers were killed Monday morning after an infiltration; two died Saturday during an earlier infiltration.

Israel has been killing most of the infiltrators, but not all. Some have managed to scurry back into the tunnels leading toward Gaza. There have been at least five tunnel infiltration attacks.

How can Israel combat the tunnel threat?

For now, unlike with the rocket fire, there’s no technological fix to the tunnel problem. Instead, Israel’s primary method for combating the tunnels is decidedly low-tech.

Israeli ground troops are looking for tunnel openings in the buildings they’re searching inside Gaza. Troops in Israel near the border are mobilized and on the lookout for new infiltration attempts. Residents of the Israeli communities near the border area have been warned on several occasions over the last few days to stay inside on lockdown.

It seems that the extent to which the ground underneath the Gaza-Israel border resembles Swiss cheese has caught the IDF — and the Israeli public — by surprise.

What does the discovery of all these tunnels mean for the duration of this war?

Before Israel launched its ground invasion on July 17, the Israeli government seemed reluctant to send troops into Gaza and pay the price in Israeli blood, Palestinian collateral damage and international censure that a ground invasion probably would entail. Israel quickly agreed to a cease-fire offer a week into the conflict (Hamas ignored it) and gave Hamas at least two other lulls in which to change its mind.

But now that Israel has awakened to the true extent of the tunnel threat and Israeli troops are already fighting and dying in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems determined to have the IDF destroy as many tunnels as it can.

“The operation will be expanded until the goal is achieved: restoring quiet to the citizens of Israel for a long period,” Netanyahu said Monday, keeping things vague enough so as not to be boxed into a corner.

If the war ends before the tunnel threat can be addressed adequately, the IDF’s job in Gaza will have been left unfinished. Though Israelis are agonizing over the death toll on their side — which already has exceeded the toll from the last two Gaza conflicts combined — they don’t want those soldiers to have died in vain.

This is seen inside Israel as a war of necessity, not of choice.

Will international pressure end the war soon?

With the Palestinian death toll soaring since the launch of the ground invasion, international pressure for a cease-fire is growing. On Sunday, President Obama called for an “immediate cease-fire,” and the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session to demand an immediate end to the fighting. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cairo on Monday to try to negotiate some kind of an end to the crisis.

While Israel’s eagerness for a cease-fire and well publicized efforts to avoid civilian casualties bought it some time early on, the escalating violence and rapidly mounting Palestinian civilian deaths — including several well-documented cases of Israeli strikes killing children, wiping out multiple members of the same family and targeting a hospital — are shifting international opinion away from Israel’s favor.

It remains to be seen how long Netanyahu can withstand the pressure, or how the fighting that lies ahead will affect the calculus.

For its part, Hamas doesn’t appear to want to stop fighting, either. It views every Israeli death as a triumph and every Palestinian civilian death as fodder with which to build international criticism of Israel. Hamas may already have captured the body of one Israeli soldier who is presumed to have died in a missile attack on an armored personnel carrier; they’d love to use the opportunity the fighting presents to accomplish their goal of capturing a live one.

How are ordinary Israelis reacting?

One of the remarkable things about Israel is that even though it is buffeted by threats on nearly every side and often finds itself engaged in bloody battles, for the most part the fighting happens elsewhere.

The mini-wars with Hamas in 2009 and 2012 were fought on Gaza’s turf, not inside Israel. Violence in the West Bank generally stays in the West Bank. The 2006 Second Lebanon War took place in Lebanon, not Israel. Yes, both the Gaza conflicts and the Lebanon war involved deadly rocket fire into Israel, but there were no pitched battles on Israeli streets. The real battlefield was elsewhere.

The last major exception to that rule was a decade ago during the second intifada, when Israeli buses, restaurants and nightclubs became the front line. The erection of the West Bank security fence helped end those attacks by making it harder for terrorists to get into Israel.

But now the existence of tunnels through which terrorists can infiltrate the country again threatens to bring the war into Israel, and that’s a frightening thought for Israelis.

The country still well remembers the Maalot massacre of 1974, when Palestinian terrorists slipped across the border from Lebanon and took more than 100 children hostage at a school in the northern Israeli town of Maalot. More than 25 Israelis were killed during that incident, which ended when Israeli troops stormed the school building.

With the Israeli death toll rising fast, this war already has turned into a nightmare for many Israelis, particularly those burying their loves ones. But there’s a reason IDF troops are still pushing hard in Gaza: They’re working to avert something worse.

Arab rifts may complicate search for Gaza truce


The push for a Gaza ceasefire risks becoming mired in a regional tussle for influence between conservative Arab states and Islamist-friendly governments, with rival powers competing to take credit for a truce, analysts and some officials say.

The main protagonists are Arab heavyweight Egypt and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar, on opposite sides of a regional standoff over Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, and its ideological patron the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both camps suggest the other is motivated as much by a desire to polish diplomatic prestige and crush political adversaries as by the humanitarian goal of protecting Palestinian lives from the Israeli military.

“Gaza has turned very suddenly into the theater in which this new alignment within the Arab world is being expressed,” said UK-based analyst Ghanem Nusseibeh.

“Gaza is the first test for these new alliances, and this has affected the possibility of reaching a ceasefire there.”

He was referring to Qatar, Turkey, Sudan and non-Arab Iran, the main members of a loose grouping of states which believe Islamists represent the future of Middle East politics.

That camp stands in increasingly overt competition with a conservative, pro-Western group led by Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, most of whom are intent on crushing the Brotherhood and see it as a threat.

That cleavage is now apparent in the diplomacy over Gaza.

CEASEFIRE PLAN

Qatar bankrolled the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who was overthrown by the military a year ago. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have since poured in money to support strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the takeover and has since been elected president after outlawing and suppressing the Brotherhood.

Under his rule, Egypt has tightened its stranglehold on the southern end of the Gaza Strip, closing tunnels to try to block supplies of weapons and prevent militants crossing.

Egyptian officials suspect Qatar encouraged Hamas to reject a ceasefire plan Cairo put forward last week to try to end an Israeli assault that has now killed more than 500 Palestinians as well as 18 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians.

Palestinian officials said the proposal contained little more than Israeli and U.S. terms for a truce. Hamas has its own demands for stopping rocket fire into Israel, including the release of prisoners and the lifting of an economic blockade.

With Egypt's initiative sidelined, all eyes turned to Doha, where visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who lives in the Qatari capital, a senior Qatari source told Reuters.

An official in Cairo said the Gaza battle “is part of a regional conflict between Qatar, Egypt and Turkey.

“Hamas … ran to Qatar, which Egypt hates most, to ask it for intervention, and at the end we are sure Hamas will eventually settle with an agreement that is so similar to a proposal that Egypt had offered, but with Doha's signature.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, due in Cairo late on Monday, is likely to have to mediate between Egypt and Qatar in a bid to end the fighting in Gaza.

“The dilemma is now to get Egypt and Qatar to agree. It is obvious that Hamas had delegated Qatar to be its spokesman in the talks,” said an Egyptian diplomat. “Kerry is here to try to mediate between Qatar and Egypt to agree on a deal that Hamas would approve.”

Another foreign ministry source said: “Egypt will be asked by Kerry to add in Hamas' conditions and then Kerry will go to Qatar and ask it to ask Hamas to approve the amended deal.”

For reasons of history and geography, Egypt has always seen itself as the most effective mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in neighboring Gaza.

But critics say Egypt's strongly anti-Islamist government is trying to pressure Hamas into accepting a truce offering few concessions for the group. Its aim, they say, is to weaken the movement and allied Islamist forces in Egypt.

Hamas leaders said they were not consulted on the Egyptian move, and it did not address their demands.

With peace efforts delicately poised, Gaza now appears to be a test of strength in a regional struggle for power.

INTERFERENCE

Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said Gaza mediation had seen “a lot of political interference”.

“Qatar was unhappy with the Egyptian ceasefire (plan). They are very uncomfortable that it came from Egypt. The Qataris are trying to undermine Egypt politically, and the victim is the ceasefire that Egypt has proposed.

“The terms of the problem is — who will present the ceasefire? Who will win the first political match between those two new camps within the Arab world?” Abdulla said.

At the root of the rift are opposing attitudes to the Muslim Brotherhood, which helped sweep Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt in 2011 only to be ousted itself last year.

Its ideology challenges the principle of conservative dynastic rule long dominant in the Gulf: Some of its leading members are based in Qatar and broadcast their views via the country's media, angering other Gulf Arab states

Qatar is accused of using its alliance with Hamas to elbow its way into efforts to mediate between the movement and Israel.

Critics suspect Qatar wants to repair an international image clouded by months of allegations of poor labor rights, alleged corruption over the 2022 World Cup and political tensions with its Gulf Arab neighbors.

But Western governments see Qatar, maverick though it be, as a potentially significant regional mediator because of its links to Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.

Qatar denies any ulterior motive and notes that Washington has openly asked it to talk to Hamas. Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said on Sunday Qatar’s role was just to facilitate communication.

“BLOODSHED NEEDS TO STOP”

A source familiar with the matter said Qatar will not press Hamas to change or reduce its demands.

In Saudi Arabia, where suspicion of Hamas is particularly strong, as an ally of the Brotherhood and of Iran, Riyadh's main regional adversaries, newspapers have abandoned a tradition of blaming Israel alone to also attack the Palestinian group.

“The Hamas leadership, from Egyptian blood to Palestinian blood,” was the headline of an opinion article by Fadi Ibrahim al-Dhahabi in the daily al-Jazeera newspaper on Sunday.

He argued that Hamas was stoking the war in Gaza not for the sake of Palestinian liberation, but as part of a wider Muslim Brotherhood campaign against Egypt's government and to win favour with Iran.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, part of a recently formed national unity government intended to overcome rivalry between Hamas and the more secular Fatah nationalist movement, told Reuters he had seen no tug-of-war among Arab states.

“This is not the case. There is no competition between Arab countries, they all want to stop the bloodshed,” he said.

“All Arab countries want to bring an end to this fountain of blood in Gaza, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt are all in agreement. And the leaders of these country's have put their differences aside and all agree that the bloodshed needs to stop”.

Gazans pay heavy price for Hamas ties to Muslim Brotherhood


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

As the situation becomes increasingly dire in the Gaza Strip, some are seeing the noticeable absence of vociferous support from the Arab world for beleaguered Gazans as a function of the Hamas-Muslim Brotherhood relationship. 

“Egyptians feel bad for the Palestinians not affiliated with Hamas… [but]  the people of Gaza are paying the price because of the enemy relationship which exists of between Hamas, Qatar and Turkey on one side, versus Egypt [on the other],” Mahitab Abdelraouf, an Egyptian journalist,  told The Media Line.

Abdelraouf suggests, for instance, that the Islamist Hamas movement is using its media to turn Gazans against Egypt. She offers the example of a presumably much-needed shipment of humanitarian goods delivered by Egypt to the Gaza Strip last week that was sent back upon orders from Hamas officials. Hamas claimed it did so because the products’ “use-by” dates had expired.  But according to Abdelraouf, the incident was an attempt to sew animosity toward Egypt among Gazans and even West Bank Palestinians.

“The Egyptians are not against opening the Rafah crossing [the primary location for people crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip]. They are against Hamas.”  She argued that, “if Rafah was functioning under the control of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, there would be no problem in opening it. But since Hamas rules it, it will stay closed.”

Hamas was weakened by the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood earlier this year. Egyptians perceive Hamas as not only sympathizing with the organization, but through its military wing actually participating in terrorist operations against the state of Egypt.”

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Palestine Legislative Council’s political committee ad senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), has warned Palestinians against becoming involved with the political intrigues playing out in the Arab world lest they work against the Palestinian people.  Abdullah warns “it’s important not to be ‘influenced one way or another. We try to keep all regional differences outside the question of Palestine,” he told The Media Line.

Last week, Israel agreed to a cease-fire agreement presented by Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh Al-Sisi which was rejected by Hamas. Hamas spokesman Isra Al-Mo Dallal told The Media Line it was rejected because Hamas “had not been consulted and therefore could not agree to elements of a truce where the content was unknown.”

But according to Abdelraouf, the true reason for the rejection was that it originated with a French request to Qatar to use its influence with to reach a ceasefire. She suggests that had the initiative come from deposed Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, Hamas would have gone agreed to it. Abdelraouf believes the feeling among Egyptians is that underlying the Hamas rejection was an attempt to discredit Egypt’s new president, Al-Sisi.

Abdullah asserts that the position of the Palestinian Authority is that no one can deny that Hamas is a part of the Palestinian population and that the PLO and its chairman Mahmoud Abbas is looking out for the interests of all of the people. “What the leadership is doing is paving the way for a smooth relationship between Gaza and Egypt. But from time to time, there are hiccups which have a negative impact on the relationship.” he said.

Dr. Samir Awad, professor of International politics at Birzeit University, disagrees. He says that Egypt has not been playing a “positive role.” He argues that Egypt will not succeed in returning the situation to what it was before the latest violence began. “Egypt is not sponsoring Palestinians,” he said. “They are not really pressuring for their needs and demands,” he told The Media Line.

He says the role of Egypt can be either that of adversary or mediator, but not both. “Egypt is losing its very important role in the region as a mediator and as a country that has ties with Israel.”

At the end of the day, according to Awad, neither Hamas nor Israel is ready for Egypt to offer a new peace plan.    

The PLO’s Abdullah strikes a position sympathetic to those espoused by Hamas. He considers Gaza to be an “open prison,” charging that, “Gazans cannot breathe air without the permission of the Israelis.”

He offers understanding if not justification for the Hamas array of tunnels used for staging attacks on Israelis, admonishing that “saying the tunnels are used to ‘attack’ the Israelis is not the correct phrasing. Rather, they are to ‘defend’ the Palestinians.”

“The Israelis expect that if the Palestinians are attacked, they should lie down and play dead, and not to raise their voice, let alone fight back against the Israeli aggression,” according to Abdullah, who expressed the hope that “the West, namely the United States and President Obama, will take into account the lives of the Palestinians as he does the Israelis.”

What’s important is for Israel to not only respect International laws and treaties but for them to be implemented. Citing the loss of 32 Palestinian families in the course of the Israeli operation so far, Abdullah said he hopes that “the West, namely the United States President Barack Obama will take into account the lives of the Palestinians as he does the Israelis.” 

Mahmoud Abbas under fire: Some Palestinians want support for rocket attacks on Israel


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Amid rumors that a cease-fire between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement is close after ten days of Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is coming under criticism in both the West Bank and Gaza for not speaking out more strongly against Israel during the fighting.

“Some Palestinians are criticizing him for not coming out and welcoming the rockets,” Sami Musallam, the director of Area Studies at Al Quds University told The Media Line. “People expect him to applaud and say “hooray!” But if he says that, he will lose (international legitimacy), we will lose and the Palestinian cause will lose.”

In the fighting so far between Israel and Hamas, at least 225 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1400 wounded.

Hamas government spokeswoman Isra Al Modallal told The Media Line that 60 percent of the infrastructure in Gaza has been destroyed. She said that there is enough food in Gaza, but the hospitals are short of medicine.

She said that in the talks in Egypt over the past few days, Abbas has not consulted with Hamas or other “resistance organizations.”

“Every single time Abbas goes for talks, he does not consult with the resistance groups here in Gaza,” Al Modallal said. “Resistance is a very important part of any agreement. When you mention a cease-fire without mentioning the resistance groups, you have nothing.”

She said the most important part of any cease-fire must include the opening of the Rafah crossing point between Gaza and Egypt. She defended the firing of hundreds of rockets from Gaza into Israel.

“What’s important for Hamas right now is the conditions of the Palestinian people.  The borders must be open and equipment and other needs allowed to enter Gaza,” she said. “There is no other way than resistance. Israel is killing us with a slow death and collective punishment. We cannot stand to be silent in front of our children.”

Many Palestinians in Gaza agreed that they would like to see Abbas speak out more strongly on their behalf.

“Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of the Palestinian people. We believe that the President has exerted maximum efforts to get a cease-fire,” Khan Yunis resident Mohammad Faiad told The Media Line. “At the same time, the Gaza street knows very well that the President did not do enough to tell the world about the plight of the people here.”

Rania El Hilou, from Gaza city, says she has felt isolated the past ten days during what she called “the nonstop bombing.” She says she appreciates Abbas’s efforts to reach a cease-fire but said he should have done more to solve Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.

“We feel separated as if we are going through this by ourselves,” she told The Media Line.

Italian Journalist Michele Monni, who is covering the story from Gaza City, says the nicest thing he has heard people call the Palestinian Authority president is a traitor. He says Gazans feel cut off from the West Bank.

“From here the fact that the Palestinian Authority hasn't been vocal about the killing of civilians really pisses off the people,” Monni told The Media Line.

While some in the Gaza Strip see Abbas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, Monni says they think that his stand in the current confrontation is “more focused on appealing to the international community than blasting the crimes of Israel.”

Since 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza, there has been bitter rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions. A unity government was declared in June, but it has not taken any concrete action. Abbas himself has not visited Gaza since 2007, and earlier this week, when his health minister tried to enter Rafah to distribute aid, he was met with angry Gazans throwing stones and shoes and forced to retreat.

Abbas remains popular on the West Bank but many say he has been out of touch during the current crisis.

Political analyst George Giacaman at Bir Zeit University says the Palestinian Authority was in trouble long before the current Israeli air strikes on Gaza began. After Palestinians kidnapped three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month, Abbas’s security forces helped Israeli troops in the search. Hundreds of Palestinians, many of them loyal to Hamas, were arrested. Abbas ignored calls to suspend security cooperation with Israel, but he has been left on the defensive.

“Abbas doesn’t have anything to say because he can’t protect his own people. He is in a weak position,” Giacaman told The Media Line said.

He said Abbas could gain support by appealing to the United Nations, and the new agencies that the Palestinian Authority joined in April. 

Hamas lists cease-fire demands


Hamas proposed its own 10-point plan for a cease-fire in hostilities with Israel.

Versions of the Hamas plan, which includes U.N.-supervised border crossings and the release of prisoners, appeared Tuesday and Wednesday in Maariv, an Israeli newspaper, and “Arabs Now,” a Palestinian-focused news website. Maariv quoted a “senior Palestinian source.”

Hamas rejected a cease-fire proposal from Egypt that was to go into effect Tuesday morning.

Both reports said Hamas proposed an end to hostilities, including a pullback of Israeli tanks; lifting the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip; opening air, sea and land entries to Gaza under the auspices of the United Nations and other countries; and the release of prisoners detained in last month’s sweeping West Bank search for the kidnappers and murderers of three Israeli teenagers.

Arabs Now reported that Hamas also was proposing a 10-year “tahdiya,” a tamping down of hostilities that stops short of a full truce.

The Egyptian proposal included an immediate end to hostilities, with issues to be negotiated in Egypt in its aftermath. Israel had accepted the plan but resumed its operation after six hours when Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel.

The Times of Israel reported Wednesday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was proposing P.A. supervision of the Gaza-Egypt crossing at Rafah, and that Israel does not oppose the idea.

Israel began launching airstrikes on July 8 after an intensification of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

Relief agencies say that approximately 200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in airstrikes on what Israel has said are military targets. Four children were killed Wednesday in a strike on Gaza City’s port.

One Israeli has been killed by rocket fire from Gaza, which has targeted civilian areas.

Obama backs Egypt cease-fire attempt between Israel, Palestinians


President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he supports Egypt's attempt to reach a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians to head off more deadly clashes.

“The Israeli people and the Palestinian people don't want to live like this,” he said. He said he would continue to encourage a diplomatic outcome.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jim Loney

Israel sets temporary Gaza truce


The Israeli military agreed to a humanitarian cease-fire to allow civilians in Gaza to resupply their households with basic necessities.

The cease-fire will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday  and last for five hours, the Israel Defense Forces announced Wednesday evening. During the cease-fire, the IDF said in a statement that it “will cease operational activity within the Gaza Strip and hold its fire.”

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, and representatives of the United Nations brokered the humanitarian truce on Wednesday.

“Should the humanitarian window be exploited by Hamas or other terror organizations for the purpose of launching attacks against Israeli civilian or military targets, the IDF will respond firmly and decisively,” the IDF said.

Also Wednesday, Israel’s Cabinet approved the call-up of 8,000 more reservists, in addition to the 48,000 that already have been called up, to assist in the Gaza operation dubbed Protective Edge.

8 things you need to know about the Gaza-Israel conflict


Israel and Hamas are fighting their third major conflict in six years, and while some things have stayed the same, the battle lines have also shifted in a few notable ways. Here are eight things you need to know about the current conflagration:

Iron Dome has been a game changer:

The U.S.-funded Israeli anti-missile system was operational during the last conflagration, in November 2012, but its remarkable success rate this go-around has reduced Gaza’s missiles to more of an irritant than a deadly threat for Israel — so far.

In the eight-day conflict of 2012, Gaza fired some 1,500 rockets into Israel and killed six Israelis, five of them from rocket fire. In the three-week war of 2008-09, 750 rockets were fired into Israel, killing three (another 10 Israelis were killed in fighting). By comparison, more than 1,100 rockets have been fired toward Israel this time and thus far there’s only been one Israeli death — and by mortar fire at a border area, not a rocket attack.

While one missed rocket can make things drastically worse, the success of Iron Dome has bought Israel time to carry out its Gaza operation without overwhelming domestic pressure for either a cease-fire or an escalation.


An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in Ashdod on July 8. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

• Iron Dome’s success is bad for Israeli PR:

It’s a paradox of Israel’s able defenses that media coverage of this conflict has focused overwhelmingly on Palestinian suffering in Gaza, prompting complaints from some supporters of Israel. But in the absence of Israeli deaths, Gaza is where the story is. The scenes of devastation there, the tales of human loss and the Palestinian death toll are much more compelling for most viewers and readers than images of Israelis hunkering down in bomb shelters, taking cover in shopping malls or peeking into a hole in the ground where a rocket landed.

But Israelis would rather suffer bad PR than battlefield losses.

• Israel does not want a full-scale war:

Israel’s quick embrace of an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire early Tuesday was a sign of its reticence to launch a ground invasion of Gaza and turn this into a full-scale war — despite calls from some hawkish Israeli Cabinet members to deal Hamas a death blow.

Israel would love to eliminate Hamas, but it doesn’t seem able to do so. Despite some limited success, after every conflagration Hamas has managed to rearm and improve its rocket capacity, as evident in the rocket range on display in this round of fighting. Another ground operation likely would result in greater loss of lives on the Israeli side and worse carnage in Gaza.

The Israeli government wants this over quickly because the longer it lasts, the greater the chances an errant Israeli strike causes mass Palestinian civilian deaths or a Palestinian rocket manages to penetrate Israel’s defenses and cause significant Israeli casualties.


Israeli armored personnel carriers (APCs) drive outside the Gaza Strip on July 15. Photo by Nir Elias/Reuters

• Israel and Hamas are at a stalemate:

On the defensive front, this confrontation has been a big win for Israel: Iron Dome has managed to render Hamas’ rockets mostly impotent, and the Israeli army foiled an attempt by Hamas attackers to infiltrate Israel via sea. The’re been just one Israeli death so far — from mortar fire at the Erez border crossing where Israel and Gaza meet.

On the offensive front, however, Israel hasn’t managed to curtail the rocket fire, kill the top leaders of Hamas or significantly disable its fighting capabilities. Hawks argue that Israel could accomplish those goals if it launched a full-fledged war, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu either doesn’t agree or is unwilling to pay the price in Israeli lives or Palestinian collateral damage.

For Hamas, which started off the war severely weakened politically, the battle has been an opportunity to demonstrate the improved range of its rockets and reassert its position as the Palestinian faction willing and able to take on Israel. But Hamas’ inability to inflict any significant damage on Israel or protect Gaza from Israeli assault is not good for its reputation.

• Hamas’ Egyptian lifeline is dead:

If it wasn’t clear before Egypt’s cease-fire proposal, it certainly is now: Hamas has no friend in Egypt. The proposal did not include any of the Hamas leaders’ demands, highlighting the stark changes in the Egypt-Hamas relationship since Hamas’ 2012 confrontation with Israel.

When the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected Egyptian president in June 2012, Hamas rulers in Gaza gained a powerful ally in their neighbor to the south (Hamas is affiliated with the Brotherhood). Trade and arms trafficking in the tunnels linking Gaza and Egypt increased, and with the blockade of Gaza breached, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula became a staging ground for attacks against Israel.

That’s over now. Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi treats Hamas with the same disdain and antagonism he has for the Muslim Brotherhood, and he has choked off Hamas’ access point at the Egypt-Gaza border.

And in today’s Egypt, where intimidated press outlets take their cues from the government, Egyptian media have followed suit. A clip of excerpts from Egyptian TV programs taken July 9-12 and compiled by the Middle East Media Research Institute shows Egyptian commentators and anchors slamming Hamas.

“We are not prepared to sacrifice even a single hair from the eyebrow of an Egyptian soldier or civilian for the sake of Hamas and all the people who wage jihad while indulging them in all kinds of dishes at the swimming pool,” Egyptian talk-show host Mazhar Shahin said July 12. “They goad people into fighting, terrorism and violence under the pretext of jihad while they themselves sit at a hotel, a swimming pool or a nudist beach.”

• The psychological effects of air-raid sirens across Israel may be long lasting:

For the first time, Israel’s populous center, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, are the sites of frequent air-raid sirens. Though the incoming rockets are either being intercepted or allowed to fall harmlessly in unpopulated areas, the psychological impact of this conflict is likely to reinforce Israelis’ sense of being under siege — particularly for those too young to remember the last time their cities were the site of bombings or rocket fire.


Israelis enter a bomb shelter as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets in Ashkelon on July 9. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

As Israeli author and journalist Ari Shavit wrote in London’s Sunday Times, the quiet of the last decade or so in metropolitan Tel Aviv — since the end of the Second Intifada — helped lull many Israelis into thinking they lived in some kind of Middle Eastern version of California, complete with skyrocketing real estate prices and high-tech start-ups. But with parents now running with their kids to bomb shelters, that bubble has burst.

Combined with the wars in Syria and Iraq, the revolution and counterrevolution in Egypt, and the rest of the Arab Spring, Israelis now may have more reason than ever to be wary.

• The link between Middle East ferment and anti-Semitism worldwide persists:

As with past conflagrations between Israel and the Palestinians, anti-Semitic incidents around the world have spiked since Israel launched its bombing campaign in Gaza. A rabbi in Morocco was attacked on his way to shul last Friday night. Protesters in Paris marched to the Abravanel synagogue on Sunday chanting anti-Semitic slogans, throwing projectiles, and clashing with police and Jewish security guards. A synagogue elsewhere in France was firebombed. In Chile, a Jewish home was stoned while assailants yelled anti-Semitic epithets, according to the World Jewish Congress.

• American Jews are playing their familiar role:

The Israel-Diaspora relationship may be changing, but the way American Jews react to Israel in a time of crisis is not. The American Jewish organizational establishment is collecting money, going on solidarity missions and taking to the airwaves to defend Israel’s reputation abroad. Those staples of solidarity efforts, Israel emergency fundraising campaigns, are back in full swing.

Rockets from Gaza still striking Israel after it accepts cease-fire


Rockets fired from Gaza continued to land in populated areas of Israel after its security Cabinet accepted and put into effect an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire.

The Cabinet announced in a one-sentence statement its acceptance of the cease-fire at 9 a.m. Tuesday, the time it was scheduled to go into effect.

More than 35 rockets landed in southern Israel and further inward in the hours after Israel put the cease-fire into effect. Rockets were fired as far north as Haifa and Zichron Yaakov.

Hamas took responsibility for the long-range rocket fired on Haifa that was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Also, a home in Ashdod was hit by a rocket fired Tuesday morning.

“Israel’s leadership has directed our forces to suspend strikes in Gaza. We remain prepared to respond to Hamas attacks and defend Israel,” the IDF spokesman said Tuesday morning.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement early Tuesday afternoon following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that Israel will defend itself if necessary,  despite accepting a cease-fire.

“We accepted the Egyptian proposal in order to present an opportunity for Gaza to be disarmed of its missiles, rockets, and tunnels through political means, but if Hamas does not accept this proposed cease-fire – and this is how it appears at present — Israel will have full international legitimacy for an expanded military operation to return the necessary quiet,” he said.

Hamas reportedly rejected the cease-fire proposal, calling it unacceptable. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Palestinian Maan news agency that Hamas was not officially informed of the proposal by the Egyptians or any other party.

“We are a people under occupation and resistance is a legitimate right for occupied peoples,” he said, according to Maan.

Reuters reported Tuesday morning, however, that Hamas leadership was in Cairo debating the proposed Gaza truce and meeting with Egyptian officials.

The military wing of Islamic Jihad called the proposal a “surrender.”

“If what has been circulated is true, this initiative means kneeling and submissiveness, and so we completely refuse it and to us, it’s not worth the ink used in writing it,” a statement said, according to Maan.

Meanwhile, at least five Israelis were injured early Tuesday morning when three rockets were fired at the southern resort town of Eilat. One of the rockets struck four cars, sparking a fire. The rockets were launched from the Sinai Peninsula, Haaretz reported.

Overnight, the Israeli Air Force attacked 25 Gaza targets. In the 24 hours ending Tuesday morning, the IAF attacked 132 targets, including more than 50 concealed rocket launching pads and 11 weapons storage facilities. Among the targets hit was the home of Marwan Issa, the leader of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

More than 180 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday morning decided not to fly to the area to push the cease-fire following his nine-day trip to Asia and Europe, as he had been considering.

U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro posted on his Facebook page a statement attributed to Kerry: “The Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire & negotiations provides an opportunity to end the violence and restore calm. We welcome the Israeli cabinet’s decision to accept it. We urge all other parties to accept the proposal.”

 

Avigdor Lieberman: Israel should retake Gaza


Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said Israel should retake the Gaza Strip in the current military operation.

“Israel must go all the way in Gaza. The world must give us its full backing to go all the way,” Lieberman said Tuesday afternoon at a news conference at the Knesset. “All this hesitation works against us.

“A cease-fire is a tacit agreement that Hamas can continue to build up its power,” he said of the failed attempt by Egypt to broker a cease-fire.

Israel’s security Cabinet on Tuesday morning agreed to the proposed cease-fire and halted its operation known as Protective Edge. But after six hours and more than 40 rockets fired throughout Israel, the military said it would resume its operation.

Lieberman said the end result of Protective Edge, in its eighth day, “would see the IDF control Gaza.”

The foreign minister’s Yisrael Beiteinu party severed its connection with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud a week ago over disagreement on how to handle the rocket fire from Gaza.

 

Israel resumes military operations in Gaza after cease-fire fails


Israel’s military resumed operations against Hamas in Gaza, six hours after accepting an Egyptian cease-fire proposal, following rocket attacks from the strip.

The resumption of operations in Gaza was announced at about 3 p.m. Tuesday after more than 40 rockets were fired from Gaza throughout Israel in the hours after Israel halted attacks in observance of the cease-fire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned earlier Tuesday that he would order the intensification of operation against Hamas if it continued to fire rockets at Israeli civilians.

“If Hamas rejects the Egyptian proposal, and the rocket fire from Gaza does not cease, and that appears to be the case now, we are prepared to continue and intensify our operation to protect our people,” Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry slammed Hamas for continuing its rocket fire, reiterating that the United States considers it a terrorist organization.

“I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets in multiple numbers in the face of a goodwill effort to offer a cease-fire, in which Egypt and Israel worked together, that the international community strongly supports,” Kerry said in Vienna on Tuesday morning.

“The Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire and negotiations provides an opportunity to end the violence and restore calm. We welcome the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to accept it. We urge all other parties to accept the proposal,” he said

Kerry had been set to go to Egypt on Tuesday to press for the cease-fire, but canceled the last-minute trip after Israel accepted the proposal. His spokeswoman told reporters that Kerry has been in contact with the Egyptians, Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas since the beginning of Israel’s Operation Defensive Edge began eight days ago.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians, also threatened Hamas if it did not stop firing rockets.

“Israel is giving the Hamas an opportunity to also accept the Egyptian proposal, to stop firing and to stop a painful Israeli response that it will suffer if it continues to fire rockets,” Livni said, according to Haaretz. “If Hamas doesn’t take up the proposal, Israel will continue to use force against it — and a lot of it.”

Following a meeting Tuesday morning with Tony Blair, special envoy of the Quartet — the international grouping that mediates the peace talks — Israeli President Shimon Peres asserted that Israel would continue to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza, saying “it is our moral responsibility and our sovereign right.”

Peres added, “We all wish to lower the flames, we want an end to the fighting and we hope to see it soon. But there can be no compromise with terror. A cease-fire must be on these terms. No more rockets. No more terror.”

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