Rocket explodes in Israel, first attack from Gaza since November truce


A rocket fired from Gaza exploded in Israel on Tuesday, the first such attack since a November truce and an apparent show of solidarity with West Bank protests after the death of a Palestinian in an Israeli jail.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's West Bank-based Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the rocket strike, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency said. No casualties were reported.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, said it was investigating. There was no military response from Israel, hours after the rocket slammed into a road near its southern city of Ashkelon.

The rocket was the first to hit Israel since a November 21 truce brokered by Egypt that ended eight days of cross-border air strikes and missile attacks in which 175 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

Tuesday's strike came after a surge of unrest in the West Bank, that has raised fears in Israel of a new Palestinian Intifada (uprising).

On Monday, thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank turned out for the funeral of Arafat Jaradat, 30, who died in disputed circumstances in an Israeli prison on Saturday.

Israeli police shot and wounded five Palestinian youths during confrontations in Bethlehem and outside a West Bank prison later the same day, leaving a 15-year-old boy in critical condition, Israeli and Palestinian medical sources said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman, commenting on the incident, said troops had opened fire at Palestinians who threw homemade hand grenades at a Jewish holy site called Rachel's Tomb, in the Bethlehem area.

Before the rocket attack from Gaza, media reports said Israeli officials had hoped the Palestinian protests were winding down a week after they were launched in sympathy with four prisoners on intermittent hunger strikes.

The U.S. State Department said American diplomats have contacted Israeli and Palestinian leaders to appeal for calm.

The United Nations coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, called for an investigation of Jaradat's death. Jaradat had been arrested a week ago for throwing stones at Israeli cars in the West Bank.

Palestinian officials said he had died after being tortured in prison. But Israel said an autopsy carried out in the presence of a Palestinian coroner was inconclusive.

Palestinian frustration has also been fuelled by Israel's expansion of Jewish settlements in territory captured in a 1967 war and deadlocked diplomacy for a peace agreement since 2010.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jeffrey Heller

Israel-Gaza conflict: Low expectations


No one knows for sure why the Gaza hostilities began. 

We know that there had been weeks of intensifying rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, rockets fired by various Palestinian groups that were tolerated, even encouraged by the governing Hamas. And we know that the Israeli government had reached its limit of tolerance for such attacks, possibly, though not primarily, because elections are coming up, and the Israeli public wanted something done. We also know that what ignited the final escalation of this cycle of violence was Israel’s assassination of Hamas’ military chief on Nov. 14. We know that, following every such action, a barrage of rockets can be expected. We know, as well, that such a barrage is invitation for even more retaliation, and so on and so forth. 

Israelis got a glimpse last week of the damage Hamas can inflict on Israel; they discovered that Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are, indeed, within the reach of rockets from Gaza. That Hamas’ threats are no joke. But Israelis still don’t know why it all began. What was the calculus behind Hamas’ decision to allow and abet this growing harassment of Israeli civilians? What was the logic behind it, assuming there is some such logic? What was Hamas trying to achieve?

Not knowing Hamas’ goals is a problem for all those trying to assess Hamas’ ability to actually meet those goals. As this article was being written, attempts at negotiations were taking place to reach an agreement that would put an end to the fighting. Israelis will be happy if such agreement can end the barrage of rockets on its territory. Israeli leaders believe the country demonstrated last week that its citizens are willing to temporarily increase their own suffering in hope of getting a better long-term deal. And they also demonstrated the ability of Israel’s defensive tool — the Iron Dome — to dramatically decrease damage to Israel’s citizens in case of war. And that is an important message not just for Hamas, but also for all other potential attackers, such as Hezbollah and Iran. 

Of course, it is possible that Hamas had just miscalculated its way into this week of skirmishes; it is possible that its leaders did not quite understand that Israel had reached the boiling point. Back in 2006, when Ehud Olmert abruptly launched the second Lebanon war, it was widely assumed — even publicly admitted — by Hezbollah leaders that the other side didn’t see it coming. That Hassan Nasrallah believed he could kidnap Israeli soldiers and get away with it. So it’s possible that the leaders of Hamas are guilty of a similar misperception; it’s possible they didn’t expect the harsh response they got.

However, other possibilities must also be considered. Maybe Hamas needed the fight. Maybe it needed to reassert its presence as a player that can make things complicated for all parties just as the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas, was going to the United Nations to get the coveted seat of an almost official member. Maybe Hamas was trying to send a message to a disappointing Egyptian government that had not yet proven itself to be the ally Hamas expected it to be. 

The raging events around Gaza are a distraction from more urgent matters engulfing the Middle East and threatening to turn 2013 into a year much more challenging and dramatic than the year that is about to end. Lost behind the Gaza headlines is the recent report that the Iranians have completed yet another step in building their nuclear program. Pushed aside from attention are the much more bloody — but repetitious — events in Syria. 

The nature of small wars such as the one involving Gaza is that the context is always overwhelmed by the details. Another siren, another rocket, another Israeli attack from the air, more reservists join the troops, more injured, and dead; the hours pass, the days pass, but after a while, it all becomes blurred and seems cyclical. Each rocket fired matters only the moment it hits, or, in most cases, misses. Each siren matters only for the couple of minutes until the danger is over. Most of the occurrences of the past week — which I write abut with the caveat of a Nov. 19 press time — were quickly forgotten, negligible in their impact on the larger scheme of things. 

The final outcome of the battle is what matters, and, strangely, while no one can quite explain why the war started, everyone has known from the outset how it is supposed to end: a cease fire, the return to the status quo. No more rockets fired at Israel; no attacks from the Israeli side. Until the next round. The Gaza pressure cooker had to let some steam off before returning to normal (which is hardly what people in most other countries would call “normal”).

There have been many complaints as the operation continued, related to the lack of “strategy” on the part of Israel (for some reason — maybe lack of expectations? — fewer such complaints were aimed at Hamas). These complaints have come mostly in two forms: 1.) that Israel should not fight a war against Hamas without coupling its effort with a parallel effort at advancing the peace process with the PA; and 2.) that it is time for Israel to abandon its policy of non-negotiation with Hamas and acknowledge reality — Hamas is here to stay.

These two alternative policies are both worthy of discussion, as long as one realizes that they contradict one another. If Israel negotiates with Hamas, it undermines the PA, the only partner Israel might have for a peace process. If Israel advances peace negotiations with the PA, it is likely to draw even more opposition from Hamas. Nevertheless, some serious people believe that at least one of the two options should be vigorously pursued by Israel, and some even believe that Israel can attempt to try both in parallel. At the bottom of these alternative policy paths, though, lie two assumptions that Israel doesn’t seem to accept, and hence doesn’t seem inclined to follow: 1.) that there’s no problem without solution, and 2.) that action is always preferable to inaction.

If one accepts these two assumptions, it is reasonable to be puzzled, even dismayed by Israel’s lack of “strategy.” It is clear, and not just in regard to the 2012 Gaza operation, that Israel operates under the supposition that no solution is currently available for the problem of Gaza and Hamas, and that inaction — in the larger sense — is indeed preferable to action. Israel believes that Hamas is an enemy with whom no negotiation can lead to resolution, and that this is a component of the larger problem of a Palestinian society that isn’t yet ready for peace. When Palestinians are ready — when they are ready not just to negotiate with Israel, but also to confront the radical factions within their own society — that will be the right time for an attempt at a resolution that demands action. But until then, Israel defies both above-mentioned assumptions: It believes that there’s no present agreement that will put an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and that the lack of a possible agreement makes a tense but quiet status quo the only thing it can hope to achieve. 

Hence, an operation with no “strategy.” A war of low intensity, but also of low expectations. An operation aimed at restoring a status quo that is far from satisfying to both Palestinians and Israelis. An operation that outsiders perceive with a measure of dismay: All this violence just to go back to what we had two months ago? All this violence, and no attempt to leverage it to achieve larger goals? 

The answer, sadly, is a resounding yes. The dead, the injured, the terrified, the heart-wrenching scenes, the scared innocents, the crying children, the wasted days, the sleepless nights, the constant worry, the shattered windows, the wasted resources, the sad realization that there’s no end — all this with no purpose other than to restore the status quo. That is what Israel wants for now. And as for Hamas: As I warned at the outset of this article, we have a problem with Hamas, beginning with the fact that we don’t quite understand what they want.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor.

From Sandy to Gaza rockets, students weather each other’s storms


Between Israeli youths going through Hurricane Sandy and American youths experiencing the onslaught of rockets from Gaza, participants of November’s America Israel Friendship League’s (AIFL) student exchange rode an emotional and historic rollercoaster on both sides of the Atlantic.

Twenty-eight American high school students—members of the AIFL-sponsored Youth Ambassadors Student Exchange (YASE)—returned from Israel Nov. 19 after having witnessed Operation Pillar of Defense, and the rocket fire that prompted it, firsthand.

“I saw a bomb shelter for the first time and heard the ‘boom’ of an Israeli missile as it intercepted a Palestinian attack while we were at the school Hakfar Hayarok just outside of Tel Aviv,” Katy Hall, an 18-year-old senior at Bethany High School in Yukon, Okla., told JNS.org during her group’s layover in New York’s John F. Kennedy airport on the way home to Oklahoma.

Earlier in the month, the Americans’ 22 Israeli counterparts in the U.S. just prior to the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, spending their first week as guests of host families in Oklahoma, Virginia Beach, and New York. The New York-based group experienced the unprecedented events of one of history’s worst natural disasters. At the beginning of week two, the entire group met in Washington, D.C., for an intense four-day learning program, and then traveled together to New York City.

YASE, a 30-year-old student exchange program that focuses on bi-national cooperation, education, and cultural understanding. YASE is the only public high school exchange between Israel and the U.S., and works in partnership with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the American Association of School Administrators and the Israel Youth Exchange Council.

Following their New York schedule, the entire YASE contingent of 50 (between the American and the Israelis) flew to Israel, arriving in Tel Aviv on Nov. 8, and was welcomed into the homes of their Israeli host families. The Israeli group from Rishon LeZion who had experienced “Sandy” directly took their New York peers home.

Then came Operation Pillar of Defense, the Israel Defense Forces action intended to stop the rockets being fired from Gaza. “The first priority was to assure the safety and security of every participant,” AIFL Chairman Kenneth Bialkin told JNS.org while the American students were still in Israel. “Everyone is safe, everyone, is eager to stay for the full program. These are exceptional young people, exhibiting the highest ideals of friendship.”

The American students included delegates from many ethnic and religious backgrounds—African American, Chinese, East Indian Pakistani, Albanian and others. They were Christians (including an Egyptian Coptic student), Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. Everyone was in contact with his or her parents. During the course of the intense program, the students formed strong bonds with their Israeli peers and developed a strong sense of belonging.

The annual YASE program follows a meticulously planned curriculum comprised of academic, cultural and community activities and experiences throughout both the American and Israeli segments. When the Israeli contingent to New York—students mostly from Rishon LeZion, chaperoned by Sigal Greenfeld Mittelman— arrived there York just days before Sandy, they had no idea what awaited them.

“Sandy created a really awful situation,” Mittelman told JNS.org. “I had to keep the kids calm and assure their safety—especially without electricity.” Their parents in Israel were worried, and because there was no phone service for days, could not contact their children. Email and Skype helped Mittelman keep parents 6,000 miles away as calm as possible.

The American students scheduled to be in Rishon LeZion weathered a different kind of storm. It was the same New York contingent that had hosted their peers from Rishon LeZion during Sandy. They had to be moved from Rishon LeZion to the Israeli Ministry of Education-run boarding school of Hakfar Hayarok.        

“All the American kids were in constant contact with their parents,” Cassia Anthony, program director of AIFL, told JNS.org.

AIFL

The Youth Ambassadors Student Exchange contingent from America pictured just after landing in Israel.

Every attempt was made to maintain the students’ original schedule, although the base was moved from Tel Aviv to Haifa.  The students were able to visit schools, the Baha’i Shrine and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. But due to the rockets, the American students returned to the U.S. Nov. 19, curtailing their program by two days.

Dr. Charlotte Frank, chairman of the executive committee of AIFL and the initiator of the YASE program, praised the forbearance of the student ambassadors.

“The way these kids have responded is a miracle,” she told JNS.org. “The students survived an unprecedented encounter with Hurricane Sandy in New York lived through another ‘storm’—this time, of rockets and Israeli resilience. Their amazing experiences on opposite sides of the world will give then an even greater depth of understanding.”

“These young men and woman learned to live together, to survive together and to grow with their experiences,” Frank added.

Michele Ayers, a teacher at Oklahoma’s Bethany High School and a chaperon for the nine students from that school who participated in YASE, told JNS.org from Kennedy Airport on Monday that the students “felt very safe in Israel.”

Ayers described the city of Yukon, where Bethany High is based, as “a very conservative Protestant community.” She called the YASE trip “such a growing opportunity for the kids.”

“To be immersed in the Jewish and Israeli culture and learn so much about the Jewish people was amazing… Being in Israel was a great learning experience—though perhaps not at the best time,” she said.

The students’ Israeli host families “knew exactly what to do,” and were “like having family from a half a world away,” Ayers said.

Though the students were not alarmed, Ayers said she understood why the students had to return from Israel, when rockets began to fall as far north as the suburbs of Tel Aviv.

Hall, the Bethany High senior, said the Israel experience widened her understanding of her own beliefs.

“God is so alive here,” she told JNS.org. “The Jewish people are His chosen people. Being in Israel is so surreal, so beautiful.”

“The news doesn’t tell the true story of Israel,” Hall added.

Ayers said the Bethany High delegation is “going to go back” to Israel, but even if they don’t return, the Jewish state clearly left an impression on them that won’t fade anytime soon.

“There’s a part of my heart that remains in Israel,” Ayers said. “I’ll never be the same.”

Thousands protest in Egypt against Israeli attacks on Gaza


Thousands of people protested in Egyptian cities on Friday against Israeli air strikes on Gaza and Egypt's president pledged to support the Palestinian enclave's population in the face of “blatant aggression.”

Western governments are watching Egypt's response to the Gaza conflagration for signs of a more assertive stance towards Israel since an Islamist came to power in the Arab world's most populous nation.

President Mohamed Morsi is mindful of anti-Israeli sentiment among Egyptians emboldened by last year's Arab Spring uprising but needs to show Western allies his new government is no threat to Middle East peace.

His prime minister, Hisham Kandil, visited Gaza on Friday in a demonstration of solidarity after two days of strikes by Israeli warplanes targeting Gaza militants, who had stepped up rocket fire into Israel in recent weeks.

Gaza officials said 28 Palestinians, 16 of them civilians, had been killed in the enclave since Israel began the air offensive against the tiny, densely populated enclave ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Three Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday.

“We see what is happening in Gaza as blatant aggression against humanity,” Morsi said in comments carried by Egypt's state news agency. “I warn and repeat my warning to the aggressors that they will never rule over the people of Gaza.

“I tell them in the name of all the Egyptian people that Egypt today is not the Egypt of yesterday, and Arabs today are not the Arabs of yesterday.”

The Egyptian foreign minister also spoke to his counterparts in the United States, Jordan, Brazil and Italy on Friday to discuss the situation in Gaza, a ministry statement said.

Mohamed Kamel Amr spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the necessity of cooperation between the United States and Egypt to end the military confrontations. Amr stressed the necessity of Israel ending attacks on Gaza and a truce being rebuilt between the two sides, the statement said.

Israeli ministers were asked to endorse the call-up of up to 75,000 reservists after Gaza militants nearly hit Jerusalem with a rocket for the first time in decades and fired at Tel Aviv for a second day. Such a call-up could be the precursor of a ground invasion into Gaza, or just psychological warfare.

COLD PEACE

Morsi's toppled predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, was a staunch U.S. ally who upheld a cold but stable peace with Israel.

The new president has vowed to respect the 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state. But relations have been strained by protests that forced the evacuation of Israel's ambassador to Cairo last year and cross-border attacks by Islamist militants.

More than 1,000 people gathered near Cairo's al-Azhar mosque after Friday prayers, many waving Egyptian and Palestinian flags.

“Gaza Gaza, symbol of pride,” they chanted, and “generation after generation, we declare our enmity towards you, Israel.”

“I cannot, as an Egyptian, an Arab and a Muslim, just sit back and watch the massacres in Gaza,” said protester Abdel Aziz Nagy, 25, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Protesters were marching from other areas of Cairo towards Tahrir Square, the main rallying point for last year's uprising that toppled Mubarak.

In Alexandria, around 2,000 protesters gathered in front of a mosque, some holding posters demanding Egypt's border crossing to Gaza be opened to allow aid into the impoverished enclave.

Hundreds also gathered in the cities of Ismailia, Suez and al-Arish to denounce Israel's attacks.

Al-Azhar, Egypt's influential seat of Islamic learning, called on all Arabs and Muslims to unite in support of their brothers in Gaza, the state news agency MENA said.

“The Zionists are seeking to eliminate all (Palestinians) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” Ahmed al-Tayyib, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, said in comments carried by MENA.

Al-Tayyib denounced the position of world powers on the Gaza crisis, describing them as having “forgotten their humanitarian duties … and standing on the side of the aggressors,” according to MENA.

Israeli cities under fire after dozens of rockets fired from Gaza


Sirens wailed across southern Israel as Hamas gunmen fired barrages of dozens of rockets from Gaza. One Israeli woman was injured when a long-range Grad rocket slammed into a store in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. Another slammed into a car, and there were reports of damage to several buildings.

The rockets came after an Israeli airstrike killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari, and at least 20 other Palestinians. Israeli launched a series of airstrikes aimed to limit Hamas’s military capability to strike back at Israel, and Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted many of the rockets aimed at Israeli populated areas.

Jabari was known in Israel as the man who masterminded the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, and personally delivered him to Israel in October 2011 in exchange for more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners. Jabari had just returned from the haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, one week ago.

Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, said he had told his son the news of Jabari’s killing, but he did not react, saying “he is mainly looking ahead not thinking about the past.” Noam Shalit said Jabari is “a man with a lot of blood on his hands.”

In a sign that the Israeli operation may be prolonged, the Israeli security cabinet authorized a call-up of the army reserves and to expand the Gaza operation if necessary.

Hamas threatened to avenge the Israeli killing of Jabari.

“Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are,” tweeted a member of the al-Qassem brigades of Hamas. “You opened Hell Gates (sic) on yourselves.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said army operations wiped out most of Hamas’s long-range Fajr rockets, which can reach the center of the country and Tel Aviv. Some one million residents of the south braced for more rocket attacks – school was cancelled and residents were told to stay within 15 seconds of a reinforced room.

Israelis living close to Gaza say they often do not even have 15 seconds to get to safe areas.

“They say you have 15 seconds to get to the safe room, but we’re so close to Gaza that we really have less than that,” Adele Raemer, a resident of Kibbutz Nirim just a mile from Gaza told The Media Line. “I think we need to hit them hard to stop the rocket fire.”

An Israeli army spokesman said over 12,000 rockets have hit Israel in the past 12 years, 768 of them in 2012.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, which is close to Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, reacted sharply. Egypt called its ambassador home for consultations as a way to protest Israel’s actions. Egyptian officials also called Israeli officials, asking them to stop the rocket fire on Gaza. Israeli analysts said that the Egyptian reaction was expected.

“The Egyptian government is now headed by people who are associated with Hamas, but they won’t do anything to endanger their relationship with Israel or the United States,” Shmuel Bar, a security expert and former senior Israeli intelligence official.

Bar also said the killing of Jabari is a serious blow to Hamas.

“When you kill someone like Jabari, the main effect is that the person coming after him will be worried and therefore be less effective.”

Other analysts said the move was meant to reassert Israel’s deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas. The latest round of violence began when Hamas gunmen from Gaza fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli jeep on the Israeli side of the border. Military officials said the use of an anti-tank missile and the fact that it was fired while the troops were well inside Israel, showed that Hamas was not afraid of an Israeli response.

“The deterrence against Hamas had deteriorated and Israel needed to reestablish it,’ Mark Heller of the INSS think tank told The Media Line. “Israel’s failure to respond to rocket fire from Gaza led Hamas to think it could act with impunity.”

Israeli officials are warning that the operation could continue for several days, or even weeks.

“It won’t happen at once, but we will achieve the goals of this operation,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “We are at the start of the incident and not at the end. In the long term, the operation will contribute to the strengthening of our deterrence.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu said he is convinced the operation will strengthen Israel’s security.

“Today, we hit Hamas strategic targets precisely. We have significantly debilitated their ability to launch rockets from Gaza to the center of Israel, and we are now working to disable their ability to launch rockets towards the south,” he said in a statement. ”The terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others – are deliberately harming our citizens, while intentionally hiding behind their citizens. On the other hand, we avoid harming civilians as much as possible and that is one fundamental difference between us. It also indicates the big difference between our objectives, and not only in our methods. They want to obliterate us from the face of the earth and they have no qualms about hurting civilians and innocents.

Today, we sent an unequivocal message to Hamas and the other terror organizations, and if need be the IDF is prepared to expand the operation. We will continue to do everything necessary to defend our citizens.”

One million Israelis under rocket fire


Adele Raimer lives on Kibbutz Nirim less than a mile from the Gaza Strip. She’s a high school English teacher, a teacher trainer, a volunteer medical clown and the mother of four children aged 22 – 32. She’s spent much of the past four days running to safe rooms and shelters in her home and school.

“They say you have 15 seconds to get to the safe room, but we’re so close to Gaza that we really have less than that,” she told The Media Line. “I do a lot of work at home, and I sometimes feel like a “Jack-in-the-box,” hopping up and down and running back and forth to the reinforced room. It makes it hard to concentrate.”

In the latest wave of violence, 115 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Israeli army figures say eight Israelis were slightly wounded from rocket fire, and property in several towns was damaged. At least six Palestinians have been killed and dozens wounded in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

But there are fewer statistics on psychological trauma. The Eran Association for Emotional First Aid reports a 22-percent increase in the number of Israelis living in the south who have contacted the organization for psychological help over the past few days.

Dr. Adriana Katz, director of the Sderot Regional Mental Health Center, says her center treats some 3,000 patients suffering from trauma from the rocket attacks.

“Every time the rockets start again, the trauma comes back,” she told The Media Line. “As a mental health professional it’s very frustrating. We can work with people and think we’re making progress, and then any gains we have are wiped out every time the siren sounds.”

She says even professionals, herself included, are affected by the rockets.

“I live in Ashkelon, and every time I drive here [about a half-hour drive] I have to deal with the bombs – day and night,” she said. “Every single person who lives here has been affected.”

Raimer agrees. She says that every time her two dogs hear the siren announcing an incoming rocket, they start to shake. She says her family has also been affected.

“Everyone who lives here has been affected in some way,” she says. “One of my kids is in therapy because it’s just too much for one person to handle. Every time the siren goes off, it’s like I go into “fight or flight” mode. I don’t have time to think. I just grab the dogs and run to the reinforced room.”

Things were even worse, she says, before the reinforced rooms were built two years ago. Now at least she has a place to run to.

The rockets have also affected her daily life. She says she had to go to Tel Aviv for work this week, and had planned to put in a stint as a medical clown at a hospital there. But that would have meant coming home after dark, so she skipped the clowning and came home early. As she was walking her dogs, she saw the Iron Dome anti-missile system firing to bring down a nearby rocket. “It’s like fireworks, but it’s real,” she said.

Dr. Katz says that children are especially vulnerable to psychological damage. A recent study found that 75 percent of children who lived in areas under rocket fire showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

“There are a lot of children wetting their beds even at an advanced age and sleeping in their parents’ beds,” she said. “And if a parent suffers from anxiety, so will the children.”

Neither of these women sees any end in sight to the rocket fire. It comes in waves, they say. For a few months there will be quiet, with only occasional rocket fire. Then, suddenly, like this week, they find themselves under a heavy barrage.

“We now have a generation of Qassam children – they have grown up with this and they live with this,” Dr. Katz said, referring to the type of rocket most frequently fired from Gaza. “Even if the rocket fire ended today, the effects won’t go away for a very long time.”

Hezbollah says can kill tens of thousands of Israelis


The Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah said on Friday it could kill tens of thousands of Israelis by striking specific targets in Israel with what it described as precision-guided rockets.

“I tell the Israelis that you have a number of targets, not a large number … that can be hit with precision rockets … which we have,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said in a broadcast speech.

He said he would not name the targets and did not say whether the rockets were newly acquired weapons.

Nasrallah said his group could strike a limited number of targets in Israel which if hit would lead to mass casualties – a possible reference to Israeli nuclear facilities, though he said he did not spell out what he meant.

Israel, the only Middle East country outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has never confirmed or denied having nuclear weapons.

“Hitting these targets with a small number of rockets will turn … the lives of hundreds of thousands of Zionists to real hell, and we can talk about tens of thousands of dead,” said Nasrallah.

Nasrallah was speaking on the occasion of Jerusalem Day, marked each year on the last Friday of Ramadan in accordance with a tradition established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late supreme leader of Iran.

Hamas claims responsibility for firing rockets at Israel


Hamas has claimed responsibility for firing 10 long-range missiles into southern Israel.

Hamas said Tuesday evening that its armed wing, Izzaddin al-Kassam, fired 10 Grad missiles into Israel in the afternoon. At least 40 rockets fired from Gaza struck southern Israel on Tuesday.

Hamas also took responsibility for firing several rockets late Monday night that landed in Ashkelon but did not cause any damage or injuries. The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported that the rockets were targeting a nearby military base. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.

Following the attack, the Israeli Air Force fired early Tuesday morning on what it called a terrorist cell planting explosives near Israel’s border with Gaza. Ma’an reported that two 16-year-old boys were killed in the strike.

At least 40 rockets have been fired into southern Israel from Gaza on Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said. Residents of communities near the Gaza border have been put on high alert and told to stay close to bomb shelters.

The attacks followed an escalating series of cross-border attacks Monday between Israel and alleged Palestinian terrorists in which four Palestinians were killed.

On Monday evening, two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli airstrike on what the military said was a terrorist rocket-launching squad. The strike came after two rockets were launched from Gaza and landed in southern Israel, causing no injuries or damage.

On Monday morning, Israel’s Air Force fired on what it called a terrorist squad of snipers operating near the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip.


Two Palestinian men were killed and four were injured in the earlier Monday strikes, according to the Ma’an news service, which identified the casualties, in their 20s, as members of Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades. Ma’an said they were “en route to take part in a militant operation” against Israeli soldiers.

The IDF said in a statement that the squad killed in Monday morning’s action was among those responsible for recent sniper attacks along Israel’s security fence with Gaza, including one late last week in which snipers fired on an Israeli farmer working in his fields near Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel.

Military sources said the incident was not related to Monday’s attack on the Israel-Egypt border in which one civilian was killed and two terrorists shot dead.

Overnight Sunday, Israeli aircraft hit what the military said was a weapons manufacturing facility in southern Gaza and a terror activity site in central Gaza. Five Palestinians, including a woman and child, were injured in the attacks.

The sites were targeted in response to the rocket fire toward southern Israel, the IDF said. This year, more than 275 rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military said.

As rocket attacks ease, Netanyahu reiterates his Gaza policy


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reiterating his policy of responding to Gaza violence, said that Israel “will find” whoever breaks the calm.

“Our message is clear: Quiet will bring quiet. Whoever violates it or even tries to violate it—we will find him,” Netanyahu said Tuesday evening.

That evening, two rockets struck southern Israel after seven hours of calm. In the morning, hours after reports of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire following several days of rockets being fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, at least seven rockets and mortar shells exploded in Israel.

Terrorist groups in Gaza began launching a barrage of rockets at Israel on March 9 after Israel assassinated Zuhir Mussah Ahmed Kaisi, leader of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces believed Kaisi was planning a terrorist strike in Israel.

Since the violence began four days ago, more than 200 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip.

At least 26 Palestinians, including a 14-year-old and three other civilians, were killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza. The majority of those killed were terrorists, including 14 from Islamic Jihad, according to the IDF.

At least seven Israelis and foreign workers in Israel have been wounded, two seriously, and dozens have been treated for shock, according to reports.

Schools that have been closed for the last three days in cities and towns including Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod were scheduled to reopen Wednesday.

Israel-Gaza truce mostly observed


An Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and militant groups in the Gaza Strip was largely observed on Tuesday after four days of violence in which 25 Palestinians were killed and 200 rockets were fired at Israel.

The number of Palestinian rocket attacks dropped sharply after the deal took effect overnight, with less than 10 rockets reportedly fired since then. In a further sign of a return to normality, towns and cities in southern Israel announced plans to reopen schools that had been kept shut for the past three days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled Israel’s commitment to the deal, while warning of a strong response to any violations.

“Our message is that quiet will bring quiet,” Netanyahu said in a Jerusalem speech. “Anyone who violates it or even tries to violate it, our guns will find him.”

The worst flare-up of violence along the restive frontier in months began on Friday after Israel killed a senior militant it accused of plotting to attack Israel from Egyptian territory.

Israel said Gaza militants had fired about 200 rockets at its southern towns and cities from Gaza since then. Eight Israelis were injured by the rockets. At least 80 Palestinians were wounded in Israeli attacks.

Previous ceasefire deals after earlier rounds of fighting have often got off to a slow start, with guns gradually falling silent within a day or two. In this case, militants fired nine mortars and rockets in the hours after the deal took effect, causing no damage or injury.

A rocket struck harmlessly after nightfall near the city of Ashkelon, shattering a six-hour calm but provoking no immediate response. Israel has not launched any air strikes at the Hamas-ruled coastal territory since the deal was done.

A senior Egyptian security official in Cairo told Reuters by phone that both sides had agreed “to end the current operations”, with Israel agreeing to “stop assassinations” and an overall deal “to begin a comprehensive and mutual (period of) calm”.

The truce agreement followed appeals from the United States, the United Nations, France, the European Union and the Arab League for both sides to exercise restraint.

‘IRON DOME’ SYSTEM PROTECTS ISRAEL

“We expect this ceasefire to continue but we cannot be sure so our forces…are ready to continue if it will end up being necessary,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, visiting southern Israel, told reporters.

“It was quite a successful round,” he said, citing the deaths of 20 militants among the 25 Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks and what he termed the “impressively effective” Iron Dome rocket interception system.

The anti-missile batteries destroyed dozens of incoming rockets, but the barrages disrupted normal life for more than a million Israelis in the south, forcing schools to close and people to run for cover when sirens sounded.

Gaza’s Hamas Islamist leadership has kept out of the fighting and seemed eager to avoid a larger conflict with Israel.

“If Israel is committed to the agreement, we also will be committed to it,” said Khaled al-Batsh, a senior leader of Islamic Jihad which, along with the Popular Resistance Committees, was most active in the fighting.

NO APPETITE FOR PROLONGED CONFLICT

While Israel was keen to prevent rocket fire, there seemed to be little public enthusiasm for waging a longer military campaign reminiscent of a 2008-2009 offensive in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

Gaza, home to 1.7 million people, was under Israeli occupation from 1967 until 2005 and remains under blockade.

Radical Islamist group Hamas has controlled Gaza since seizing it from West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. It has shunned the stalled peace process supervised by international powers and refuses to recognize Israel.

Violent flare-ups have been frequent between Israel and Gaza’s militant factions in the past few years, in most cases lasting no longer than a week.

The last conflagration of this intensity was in August after a cross-border attack launched from Egypt killed eight people in Israel and Israel struck back killing 15 Gaza gunmen.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Andrew Osborn

Israelis see Iran ‘mini-drill’ in Gaza flare-up


Israel has emerged from the past few days of fighting with Palestinians in Gaza more confident that its advanced missile shield and civil defenses can perform well in any war with Iran.

“In a sense, this was a mini-drill” for Iran, an Israeli official said on Tuesday after an Egyptian-brokered truce took hold, leaving 25 dead in the Gaza Strip and three people wounded in Israel.

“There are significant differences, of course, but the basic principles regarding the ‘day after’ scenarios are similar,” the official said, alluding to Iran’s threat to respond to any “pre-emptive strike” on its nuclear facilities by firing ballistic missiles at Israel.

Employing a similar doctrine of pre-emption against Palestinians, Israel killed two senior militants in a Gaza air strike on Friday, accusing them of planning a major attack on its citizens through the territory of neighboring Egypt.

That southern Israel weathered the ensuing scores of short-range rockets from Gaza, with sirens summoning around a million citizens to cover and the Iron Dome aerial shield providing extra protection, was savored – warily – by Israeli defense officials.

“The Israeli home front has shown once more that it can deal with the challenges,” the armed forces’ commander, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, told reporters.

Though he described the cumulative threat from surrounding armies and guerrillas as “significant and abundant”, Gantz said: “I am convinced that our enemies understand the balance we have between a comfortable defense capability and our offensive capabilities, which we will use as required.”

While Iron Dome is deployed against rockets from Gaza, Israel’s answer to the bigger, ballistic missiles of Iran and Syria is Arrow II, an interceptor that works in a similar way but at far higher altitudes.

Israeli officials said Iron Dome shot down some three in four of the Palestinian rockets fired in recent days. Developers of the Arrow II, which has so far proved itself only in trials, boast a shoot-down rate for that system of some 90 percent.

PARALYSIS

Uzi Rubin, a veteran of the Arrow program, cautioned, however, against relying too far on such defenses as Iranian missiles, if not intercepted, could wreak far more damage than Gazan rockets, many of which are improvised from drainage pipes.

“We are talking about [1,650-lb] warheads, enough to level a city block,” Rubin said, noting there would be a greater impact if Iran’s allies on Israel’s borders—Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas, and Palestinian militants—joined in.

Yet some Israeli experts see that axis bending to new domestic political pressures, notably after the popular Arab revolts of the past year, which may reduce the extent to which Tehran can count on their support in any conflict with Israel.

Indeed, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has recently predicted that “maybe not even 500” of Israel’s civilians would die in any counter-attack after a strike on Iran.

Gaza’s governing Hamas movement stayed out of the four days of fighting waged by other militants—a reflection, perhaps, of the powerful Islamist group’s placing of domestic interests over any desire by Tehran to bleed Israel by proxy. Hamas’s ties with long-time sponsors Iran and Syria have weakened this year.

Sanguine assessments by Israeli defense officials are at odds, however, with disclosures by an opposition lawmaker last month that, despite a government-sponsored fortification drive, almost one in four citizens lacked access to shelters.

Budgetary problems no doubt contributed to the lags in construction, and the economic damage of any conflict with Iran is a factor that those who counsel against over-confidence in defensive systems have highlighted.

Rubin noted that while the flare-up with the lightly armed Palestinians in Gaza had disrupted life and business activity only in Israel’s southern periphery, Iran’s missiles were easily capable of striking its main industrial hubs—the Tel Aviv conurbation and Haifa port in the north.

“There would be a total economic paralysis,” he said.

If it is planning to attack Iran, which denies seeking the bomb while preaching the Jewish state’s destruction, Israel must contend with unprecedented tactical hurdles and the disapproval of the United States—underwriter of Arrow II and Iron Dome.

Israel would also depend on Washington’s grants for the two projects to bear the lopsided cost of each interception—between $25,000 and $80,000 for Iron Dome, and $2 million and $3 million for Arrow.

Though Israel is widely assumed to have its own atomic arsenal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubs Iran a mortal threat and described the recent Gaza rockets as a harbinger.

“These terrorist attacks, by Islamic Jihad for example, demonstrate the scale of the danger that will be wrought if, God forbid, a nuclear Iran stands behind them,” he said on Monday.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Israel, Gazan militants agree to truce, Egyptian official said


Israel and militant factions in the Gaza Strip have agreed to an Egyptian-mediated truce to end four days of cross-border violence in which 25 Palestinians have been killed, a senior Egyptian security official told Reuters on Tuesday.

The official said in a telephone call from Cairo that both sides had “agreed to end the current operations”, with Israel giving an unusual undertaking to “stop assassinations”, and an overall agreement “to begin a comprehensive and mutual calm”.

The agreement was expected to take effect at 1 a.m. local time. There was no immediate comment from either side on the agreement. Previous ceasefire deals after earlier rounds of fighting have often got off to a shaky start.

Israeli media quoted Israeli officials as reiterating the longstanding policy that Israel would “answer quiet with quiet” but stopped short of providing any guarantees to withhold fire in response to rocket attacks.

An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment.

Gaza’s Hamas leadership, whose own cadres have kept out of the fighting, had confirmed on Sunday that Egypt was working on a deal to stop the violence.

Israel said Gaza militants had fired about 150 rockets at its southern towns and cities from Gaza since fighting flared on Friday after Israel killed a senior militant it accused of plotting to attack Israel from Egyptian territory.

Eight Israelis were injured by the rockets, dozens of which were shot down harmlessly by Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile interceptor system.

Twenty of the Palestinians killed since fighting flared in the Hamas-controlled enclave were militants and five were civilians, according to medical officials.

At least 80 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been wounded in the violence which also paralyzed life in much of southern Israel, forcing schools to close and hundreds of thousands to remain indoors.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Andrew Roche

The changing face of Israel’s war on terrorists


If Israel has its way, this is how future conflicts with Gaza-based terrorists will unfold: Israeli aircraft launch surgical strikes on rocket launchers; terrorist leaders are assassinated as necessary; Israeli civilians along the southern frontier are protected by advanced technology that shoots enemy rockets out of the sky; and the world, preoccupied with other matters, is too distracted to object.

The clashes last weekend weekend provide a glimpse of what this brave new world of war craft might look like. They were precipitated by the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) bombing of a car that carried Zuhair Qaisi, leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the Gaza Strip, and another top PRC terrorist released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.

As Israeli leaders expected, Islamist terrorist organizations responded with a barrage of mortar shells, Qassam rockets and Grad missiles aimed at the million or so Israelis living within firing range of Gaza. But Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system performed admirably, foiling dozens of deadly hits and providing Israel with cover to go after terrorists it considers valuable targets.

Israel also has been able to act decisively without causing widespread carnage and inviting a broader retaliation. As of March 12, Israel Air Force strikes had resulted in few civilian deaths among the more than 20 Palestinians killed — most of the casualties were members of terror groups. And with the world largely distracted by the violence in Syria and a looming confrontation with Iran, it seems that Israel’s leaders viewed this as an opportune moment to strike.

“The Americans are busy with presidential elections; Syria is involved in a civil war, which means that its proxy in Lebanon — Hezbollah — has been weakened; and Egypt is dependent on the U.S. and is in no position to do anything,” said professor Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “Most of the world would be relieved that Israel is tied down in Gaza and not planning an attack on Iran.”

On the Palestinian side, a different set of considerations is driving Hamas, the controlling power in Gaza, to refrain from taking an active part in the attacks against Israel and confronting more extremist organizations.

Hamas is keen to show it can ensure quiet in Gaza and avoid provoking Israel, but it also wants to preserve its position with Gaza’s young and radicalized population by avoiding a clash with the PRC and Islamic Jihad. Both groups are so-called muqawama, or rejectionist, terror groups, funded and backed by Iran, and oppose what they see as Hamas’ “pragmatic” approach. They advocate a commitment to violent struggle against Israel.

“Hamas is in transformation, moving away from its old alliance with Iran and Syria, and attempting to align itself with Sunni states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Ehud Yaari of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Hamas has a vested interest in showing that it is capable of maintaining stability in Gaza.”

The decision to pursue Qaisi was driven by the IDF’s belief that he was in the process of planning a terrorist attack from the Sinai Peninsula, a swath of land measuring 23,000 square miles that is only nominally under Egyptian control. Qaisi already had succeeded in launching such an attack, last August, which left eight Israelis dead. The ensuing fighting along the border also claimed the lives of three Egyptian soldiers, prompting thousands to storm Israel’s embassy and souring relations between Jerusalem and Cairo.

Avoiding such an eventuality appears to be shared on the opposite side of the border. Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime has been replaced with a parliament controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood — an Islamist organization with close ties to Hamas — might be compelled to react in the face of widespread civilian deaths in Gaza, Yaari said. But given the country’s relative instability and lack of clear leadership, all factions of the country’s government would like to avoid a Gaza crisis and a further deterioration in relations with Israel.

Egypt’s intelligence chief, Murad Muafi, is playing a major role as a liaison between Hamas and Israel to bring about a cease-fire in Gaza.

Israel’s ability to act narrowly in Gaza — avoiding the threat of an Egyptian retaliation while reducing the likelihood of high civilian casualties that would have generated intense pressure for a wide-scale assault — was enabled by the technological wizardry behind Iron Dome, a potential game-changer in Israel’s continuing struggle against cross-border terrorism, even if it leaves the region’s underlying dynamics unchanged.

The technology, first deployed in southern Israel in March 2011, is capable of downing rockets with a range of between 2.5 and 43 miles. In the latest round of clashes, it has intercepted more than 90 percent of incoming rockets, according to the Jerusalem Post, up from 75 percent a year ago. So far, only one Israeli civilian has been seriously wounded — a 40-year-old worker from Thailand who was hit by shrapnel.

The much-reduced risk of civilian casualties on the Israeli side protects the political leadership from pressure to undertake a full-scale assault on Gaza, as happened during Operation Cast Lead, the 22-day military incursion into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that began in December 2008 and left 1,166 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

“Under the circumstances,” said Yoram Schweitzer, a terrorism expert at the Institute for National Security Studies, “when the chance arose to take out Qaisi, we took advantage of it.”

Rocket hits southern Israel after IDF Gaza strikes


A rocket hit southern Israel hours after the Israeli military struck what it said were two terrorist squads in Gaza.

The Kassam rocket that was fired into the western Negev from Gaza on Wednesday morning failed to detonate, according to reports.

On Tuesday night, the Israeli Defense Forces said it attacked terrorist squads in two separate operations in Gaza.

The two squads, both affiliated with the Global Jihad movement, had been involved in recent terrorist activity against Israel, the IDF said in a statement issued Tuesday night.

Three squad members were killed in the two strikes and 10 were wounded, according to reports.

The IDF identified some members of the squads, including Rami Daoud Jabar Khafarna, 27, a Global Jihad-affiliated terrorist from Jabalia who is a former member of Hamas’ military wing and known to have taken part in firing rockets at Israel; and Hazam Mahmad Sa’adi Al-Shakr, 26, a Global Jihad-affiliated terrorist from Beit Hanoun, who is a former member of Hamas. Al-Shakr has planted and detonated explosive devices against IDF soldiers, along the border with the Gaza Strip, according to the IDF.

The hits were a joint IDF-Israel Security Agency operation. The IDF in its statement held Hamas responsible for all terrorist activity emanating from Gaza.

Rockets fired from Gaza struck southern Israel on Sunday and Monday.

[UPDATE] Rockets fired across Lebanon, Israel border


An exchange of rocket fire hit the Lebanese-Israeli border Tuesday in the first such incident since 2009, coming at a time of heightened regional tensions over Syria and Iran’s nuclear program.

UNIFIL, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, said at least one rocket was fired at northern Israel, prompting the Israeli army to return fire. The Lebanese army said Israel launched four rockets in return.

Two buildings in Israel’s western Galilee area were damaged, Israeli media said, but there were no reports of casualties. Residents said they heard two explosions and that houses shook.

The Lebanese army said it had deployed extra troops and patrols in the Rmeish area in Lebanon, just 2km (1 mile) from the border, where a rocket launcher was found. UNIFIL said it was inspecting both sides of the border.

A security analyst and former UNIFIL member Timur Goksel said the attack did not bear characteristics of Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shi’ite guerrilla army and political movement that fought a 34-day border war with Israel in 2006.

But he said the attack was unusual, first because it was in a Christian village not usually a site of rocket launchings, and second because the weapon used was a longer range Grad missile that had better aim compared to the older, shorter rockets which are fired randomly.

“This looks more serious. The type of rocket and apparent targeting of settlements suggests they were not noisemakers, they actually hit something and didn’t mind causing casualties. This one could have caused huge mayhem,” he said.

The Israeli-Lebanese border has been largely quiet in recent years, though some have worried about a possible spillover of tension from a popular revolt in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad, and from a stiffening of Western sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Syria, seen as the faultline for the region’s geopolitical balance and an ally of Hezbollah, has launched a crackdown to try to quell unrest. The U.N says some 3,500 people have died since March.

CALL FOR RESTRAINT

UNIFIL called for restraint. “This is a serious incident in violation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 and is clearly directed at undermining stability in the area,” it said in a statement.

Israel said it was trying to establish who fired the rockets from Lebanon, but that it held the Lebanese government responsible and would deliver a complaint.

“The Lebanese government is responsible for everything that happens in Lebanon and everything that exits from its border,” Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said.

The Lebanese army said a rocket launcher was found in the Rmeish area of south Lebanon.

In Lebanon, security sources said the rocket fire hit Israel from an area between the villages of Aita Shaab and Rmeish. They said Israel fired four artillery shells in response, but they landed in fields and caused no damage.

An Israeli military spokesman said the rockets were the first fired since 2009 across the border.

“Several rockets hit western Galilee. The Israeli army considers the incident severe and is targeting the origins of fire,” said a statement from the military spokesman’s office.

Israel’s Ynet news website said residents saw plumes of smoke where the rockets struck.

Israel strikes Gaza City in response to rocket attack


Israeli airstrikes hit multiple targets in the Gaza Strip after two long-range rockets fired from Gaza struck southern Israel.

The Israeli Air Force early Thursday morning bombed two training camps in East and West Gaza City, according to an Israeli official and Palestinian witnesses. The camps reportedly are run by Hamas.

The day before, Grad rockets fired from Gaza landed in the open territory near Kiryat Gat, and then later another within the city of Ashkelon, damaging a road.

No casualties or injuries were reported in any of the attacks.

IDF strikes Gaza 5 times following recent mortar, rocket barrage


Israel Air Force fighter jets and aircraft initiated an extensive bombardment of terror sites throughout the Gaza Strip late Monday, in what the Israel Defense Forces is calling a retaliation for a recent barrage of mortar bombs and rockets launched by militants based in the coastal enclave.

The strike came shortly after a recent upsurge in the number of rockets being fired from Gaza, the peak being on Saturday when the southern part of the country was hit by over 50 rockets.

Gaza eyewitness reports claimed that the IAF attack included five separate strikes, with medical sources in the Strip reporting five wounded Palestinians in the strikes’ wake, two of which were children.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Hold your fire! Cease fire! Fire!


Eight members of the Levi family adjust to rockets in Ashkelon


ASHKELON, Israel (JTA) — Another rocket warning siren wails and eight members of the Levi family, including a grandmother and a newborn baby, quickly cram into the small bedroom made of reinforced concrete that serves as the family’s bomb shelter.

“Come on, come on! Get in!” they shout. Just before the heavy metal door slams shut, the family dog, Pick, quickly is whisked inside.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, they listen as the sound of the siren’s wail trails off, replaced by the thud of the rocket landing. Returning to the television news a few minutes later, they see it has landed a few blocks away at a local soccer stadium.

Earlier in the day, another rocket landed much closer — just across the street.

The Grad-type missile hit a construction site, killing Hani el Mahdi, a 27-year old construction worker from a Bedouin town in the Negev, and injured several other workers at the scene, some of them seriously.

“After hearing the boom this morning I’m just not myself,” said Geula Levi, 50, whose house quickly filled up with family members. “I’ve been trying to make lunch but I simply can’t seem to get anything together.”

Since the fighting began over the weekend, two of Levi’s adult children have moved back in, one of them bringing his wife and their 2-month-old daughter. The baby never leaves the reinforced room. Her mother, Vered, ventures out only to get food from the kitchen.

About 60 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Monday. Many landed in Ashkelon, about 10 miles north of the Gaza Strip. Some reached as far as Ashdod, some 20 miles from Gaza, killing one woman as she bolted her car to take cover at a bus stop.

This week marks the first time these two major coastal cities have been subject to ongoing rocket barrages from Gaza. Ashkelon, home to some 120,000 people, had been targeted before, but hit only rarely. Ashdod had been considered out of range of Gaza’s rocket fire, but Hamas’ newly imported missiles — thought to be smuggled into the strip from Egypt during the six-month cease-fire that officially ended Dec. 19 — have increased the range of Gaza’s rockets.

Geula Levi said she was fully supportive of the army’s operation in Gaza, which by late Monday had killed 350 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them Hamas militiamen, according to reports.

“They learned their lessons from the Second Lebanon War so I think this time things will be conducted more intelligently,” she said of Israel’s military leaders.

“We’d rather suffer with the missiles now than become like Kiryat Shemona, which suffered for years,” said her eldest son, Avichai, 27.

Outside, the sound of Israeli artillery being fired into Gaza echoed in the streets, which were quiet and mostly empty. Staring out into the eerie emptiness were campaign posters for the upcoming election, including a billboard with a photograph of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni next to the words, “The courage to say the truth.”

Livni’s party, along with those of her main rivals, canceled campaign events scheduled for this week.

At the entrance to Ashkelon, one of those rivals, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the architect of the Israeli strike on Gaza, had his own image up on a billboard with the slogan “Looking truth in the face.”

For the people of Ashkelon, who are living their leaders’ “truths,” there was stoicism mixed with fear.

“It is miserable but it will go on for a while,” said Capt. David Biton, the police commander who oversees the southern district that includes half a million people and stretches from Ashdod to Sderot — all now within range of Gaza’s rockets.

Galit Ben-Asher Yonah, 37, said it was “the shock of my life” to discover that her home in Gan Yavne, a bedroom community near Ashdod, now has come under attack.

Gan Yavne was hit for the first time Sunday, and two more rockets fell Monday. It is the farthest point north that the rockets have reached to date.

Yonah, originally from Los Angeles, is the mother of two young daughters and a newborn son. She says she will be keeping all her children at home for the next few days.

“Never in my life did I think I would have to explain to my 5-year-old that we have to go to the basement because a bomb was falling,” she said. “And there she was guiding me, telling me to cover my head with my hands and stay away from the window as she was taught in nursery school.”

Tal, her 5-year-old, also brought down a snack of bananas and cookies for them after the first rocket fell, telling her in a serious but calm voice that they might be sitting in the basement, which is reinforced against rockets, for a while.

In nearby Nitzan, where many of the families who were evicted three years ago from the Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza live in temporary homes, there are no protective rooms to which to flee.

“We left the Kasssam rockets to get Katyushas instead,” said Yuval Nefesh, 41, referring to the longer-range Katyusha rockets now striking Israel from Gaza. Before, Palestinians relied almost exclusively on the Kassam, a crude rocket with a range of 10 miles and poor accuracy.

He shrugs when asked how the people are coping. “We pray,” he said.

Nefesh is still in touch with some of the Palestinians from Gaza he met while living there, and he said he has been talking to them by phone since the Israeli air assault began.

Outside, the Elikum Shwarma and Kebab restaurant was one of the few bustling businesses in Ashkelon on Monday. Delivery people were busy ferrying orders to the thousands of people staying indoors.

Avi Zarad, working the cash register, tried to maintain a cheerful atmosphere.

“We can’t send out a message of being stressed out,” he said. A few minutes later a siren sounded and, with no shelter to run to, the customers continued eating calmly.

The soccer stadium where a rocket fell an hour earlier is just across the road.

“We are getting used to it, but it’s a horrible reality,” said Kinneret Cohen, a restaurant worker preparing salads in the kitchen. “We just breathe deeply knowing we have to give the army time to do its work.”

Is there a way to stop rockets and avoid a Gaza fight?


Sderot is a city in the south of Israel, very close to the Gaza Strip. In the year 2007, it has been hit by 1,000 Qassam rockets and 1,200 mortar shells launched by the Palestinians.

Life in Sderot has become hell, but Israel finds it very difficult to defend it, because the people who launch the Qassams are hiding among civilians. Slowly but surely, however, Israeli patience is running out.

Is there a way to stop this ongoing terrorist attack on Sderot without entering Gaza with great force in an incursion that would most probably cost the lives of many Palestinians and Israelis?

Ernest, a reader from Florida, believes there is. He proposes to deploy Qassams and Katyushas in Sderot aimed at Gaza and operated acoustically: When the Palestinian Qassam hits Sderot, the blast will automatically trigger the launching of an Israeli Qassam or Katyusha on the heads of the people in Gaza who had been harassing Sderot. All that without an Israeli finger involved in the process.

I bounced the idea with some experts. A lawyer well versed in the laws of war called it “creative.” One law professor thought it fitted the principle of self-defense. A professor of philosophy, on the other hand, objected strongly: “What if our Qassam, even if technically launched by the Palestinians, hits a kindergarten in Gaza?”

I was left without a solution.

Then, I received an invitation to a conference at Hebrew University titled, “Democracy Fighting Terror With One Hand Tied Behind Its Back: Why, When and How Must This Hand Be Untied.” Bingo! Never mind the long title: This was exactly what I needed.

The speakers were professor Aharon Barak, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, and professor Richard Posner, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. No wonder that the huge hall at the Mount Scopus campus was packed with an anxious crowd.

However, when Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, took to the podium to moderate the event, four young female students started heckling loudly. Obviously, they were not happy with the way Israel was fighting terror. I could hear them yelling something about the abuse of human rights.

There and then, the weakness of democracy was exposed. One thousand people, who had gathered solemnly to listen to the speakers, were taken hostage by four people who insisted on their right to protest. This collision of rights lingered for a while, until the four students were kicked out by the security guards, with the cheers of the relieved crowd. The lesson was that in a democracy, sometimes even the majority has its rights.

Finally, former Chief Justice Barak started speaking. The much respected judge was the one who had coined the phrase that in the battle against terrorism, democracy was fighting “with one hand tied behind its back.” In other words, in the rush to combat the terrorists effectively, human and civil rights should still be respected. The audience responded with a roaring applause.

Then Judge Posner gave his American point of view. He said that in times of grave danger, human and civil rights might temporarily recede. He reminded us that during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln — the greatest American president, in his words — unconstitutionally suspended habeas corpus, because he believed that saving the union was more important than protecting a specific right. When the crisis was over, the rights were re-established. Posner received the same volume of hand-clapping.

A limbo again.

As I left the auditorium, a friend told me about a psychologist sent to comfort the people of Sderot, who had been traumatized by the relentless shelling of their city. A mother of six told him that whenever the alarm went off, the people under attack had exactly 50 seconds to rush to the shelters before the Qassam rockets hit their target.

“Yet in that period of time” she said, “I can only carry two of them to safety. What about the remaining four?”

I pray that no Qassam rocket hits a kindergarten in Sderot and, God forbid, kills several children. All debate will then stop, and the tanks will start rolling.

In the meantime, keep trying, Ernest. And if anybody else has more creative ideas about how Israel should act, short of entering Gaza and stopping the terrorists by force, please let me know.

Uri Dromi is director general of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, a conference center in Jerusalem. He can be reached at dromi@mishkenot.org.il.

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