Thursday, December 25, 2008

Israel moves closer to Gaza invasion

The following report was found at this link:
Associated Press

Israel moves closer to Gaza invasion
By MARK LAVIE, Associated Press Writer Mark Lavie, Associated Press Writer
53 mins ago

JERUSALEM – Israel moved closer to invading Gaza, saying Thursday it had wrapped up preparations for a broad offensive after Palestinian militants fired about 100 rockets and mortar shells across the border in two days.

Israel's foreign minister brushed off a call for restraint from Egypt's president, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a direct appeal to Gaza's people to pressure their leaders to stop the barrages. But the attacks showed no signs of ending. By nightfall, three rockets and 15 mortar shells had exploded in Israel.

Olmert issued his appeal in a rare interview with the Arabic language satellite channel al-Arabiya, saying Israel would not hesitate to respond with force if the attacks continued.

"I am telling them now, it may be the last minute, I'm telling them stop it. We are stronger," he said.

Thursday's rocket fire was far less than the barrage of 80 rockets the previous day, and there were no reports of injuries. But Israeli leaders said the continued fire — the most intense since Egypt brokered a cease-fire last June — was unacceptable.

One of the mortar shells landed at Israel's passenger crossing with Gaza just as a group of Palestinian Christians was going through on their way to the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations, the military said. Another rocket exploded after nightfall in an industrial park south of the coastal city of Ashkelon, police said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to Cairo to discuss the possibility of renewing the truce, which expired Friday. But by the time Livni arrived, she was in no mood to discuss a cease-fire, and she dismissed Mubarak's pleas for restraint.

"Enough is enough," she said afterward. "When there's shooting, there's a response. Any state would react that way."

In Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that "whoever harms the citizens and soldiers of Israel will pay a heavy price."

He did not elaborate. But defense officials, speaking on condition on anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the Israeli operation would likely begin with surgical airstrikes against rocket launchers and continue with a land invasion. Harsh weather conditions are hampering visibility and complicating air force missions, so the operation won't be launched until the skies clear, they added.

Another complication is national elections set for Feb. 10. Both Barak and Livni are running for prime minister, and they are under heavy pressure from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to act. Netanyahu, who advocates tough action against Palestinian militants, is the front-runner in the election, according to opinion polls.

Despite the tough talk, Israel has been reluctant to embark on an offensive liable to exact heavy casualties on both sides. Gaza's militants operate in crowded civilian areas, and past invasions have not halted the barrages.

The barrages have caused no casualties over the past two days, but there has been property damage, and tens of thousands of Israelis near Gaza have been instructed to stay indoors. TV newscasts have been showing panic-stricken children.

Israel left Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation, but still controls its border crossings, blockaded for months in an effort to pressure militants to halt their fire. Islamic Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007, after routing security forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Despite the rocket fire, Israel's Defense Ministry said late Thursday that it would open two cargo crossings Friday to allow a limited amount of vital supplies to enter. Israel's policy is to avoid a humanitarian crisis there, while keeping up the pressure.

In the West Bank, Abbas visited Hebron, the area's largest city, for the first time since he took office in 2005. Israeli forces control a section in the middle of the city to protect about 500 Jewish settlers living in several enclaves. Hebron is home to about 170,000 Palestinians.

Abbas demanded that the settlers get out. "Hebron is ours, and they have to leave if they want peace," he said.

Also Thursday, an Israeli military court sentenced the leader of a Palestinian group to 30 years in prison for participating in anti-Israel attacks.

Ahmed Saadat is the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP took responsibility for killing Israeli Cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi at a Jerusalem hotel in 2001. Saadat was acquitted of planning the assassination, but sentenced for other attacks, the military said.

In neighboring Lebanon, meanwhile, Lebanese army officers said troops discovered seven rockets set up with timers that were on the verge of firing near the border with Israel. They said troops were dismantling the Katyusha rockets.

They would not say if the rockets were directed toward Israel. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of military rules.

The militant group Hezbollah has a large rocket arsenal, but has rarely used them against Israel since their 2006 war. Last year, a previously unknown militant Islamic group fired two rockets into Israel.

After I read the above report I begin to do some searching and see what else I could find. Here is a related article that I think is important:

Hurtling towards a showdown in Gaza

As the economic situation in the Palestinian Gaza Strip becomes untenable, a military showdown, which could have dire regional consequences, is becoming inevitable.

The Gaza Strip has been marred with tension, turning it into the focal point of challenge to Israel since the latter withdrew its army and settlers in 2005 and the Islamist Hamas took control of the region after a violent confrontation with secular Fatah.

As Hamas continues to hold Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit prisoner, the Israeli blockade has turned the over-populated Strip into a large prison.

It has also led to near-starvation among the 1.5 million overwhelmingly poor and young population, 70 per cent of whom are under 30 and 85 per cent of whom are refugees.

Although Al Jazeera is the only TV outlet broadcasting internationally out of Gaza, the Arab world is awash with images of children found at both hospitals and rubbish dumps.

And yet, in spite of the dramatic deterioration in health and the standard of living, it is the security escalation that preoccupies most people's minds. The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ends on December 19 with little enthusiasm to renew it on either side.

Jailed legislators

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed since the ceasefire began in July. And tens of elected Hamas legislators remain in Israeli jails accused of inciting violence and terrorism.

Hamas, which headed the last Palestinian government in 2006, accuses Israel of cracking down on its supporters in the West Bank.

It demands that any future ceasefire must include all the occupied Palestinian Territories - a condition unacceptable to Israel.

The attack last week by Jewish settlers on Palestinian homes in Hebron, in the West Bank - what Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, termed a "pogrom" - will only fuel tense relations with the Palestinian Territories.

With the proximity between armed Jewish settlers and Palestinian West Bank residents measured in metres rather than miles, the violence is taking a communitarian turn in the shadow of the occupation.

The Israeli government blames Hamas for the escalation and for rockets fired into Israel form the Gaza Strip in recent days.

Israeli generals say that Hamas is capable of launching home-made, longer-range rockets that could reach as far as Ashdod and perhaps Beer Sheva, the largest town in the southern part of the country.

'Unavoidable confrontation'

Those advocating a military invasion or the reoccupation of Gaza, think that the confrontation with Hamas is unavoidable sooner or later.

They argue that while an invasion would be costly today, it will be costlier tomorrow, after Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad faction continue to recruit, train and arm new fighters.

The security pretext for showdown in Gaza has also become a useful tool in the upcoming February elections.

Both Tzipi Livni, leader of the ruling Kadima party, and Ehud Barak, the Labour head, are down in the polls - which predict that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud party's leader, as the likely winner in the next elections.

The two coalition partners have little to lose and much to gain from intensified military action against Gaza if it allows them to underline their security credentials.

This is especially the case for Barak - also the current minister of defence - whose party is expected to win no more than 10 seats. Such a poor result would threaten the very existence of the party that founded and governed the state during all of its first three decades.

Netanyahu has threatened to rid Gaza of Hamas' hold as soon as he becomes prime minister.

His populist agenda pushes Labour and Kadima closer to making such an operation themselves before, rather than after, the elections.

No solution

A military solution for the Gaza Strip will prove to be no more than wishful thinking that will lead to more rather than less radicalisation of the Palestinians.

It is estimated that there are thousands of Palestinian armed fighters entrenched in populated areas, many of them trained and willing to conduct a tough fight as seen by Hizbollah after the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Egypt, which has been feeling the heat of tension and radicalisation more than any other government, has so far failed to mediate between Israel and Hamas as the fragile ceasefire continues to be violated.

Cairo has also tried to bring back its presidential security forces to the Gaza-Egypt border in order to pave the way for the lifting of the Israeli blockade.

But failure to normalise relations between the two leading Palestinian factions or integrate their security forces is blocking all such moves.

With Hamas' relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and Fatah leader, Israel reckons it is doing everyone a favour by removing Hamas from power and handing Gaza to Abbas' security forces.

High casualties

A military invasion of the heavily armed Gaza Strip will lead to high casualties not only among Palestinians, but also among Israelis.

Escalation in the occupied territories will end up compromising any chance for energising the diplomatic process at the dawn of a new US administration.

Barack Obama, the US president-elect, has long accused Hamas of terrorism and refused any contacts with the group until it "renounces" terrorism and accepts all other Quartet conditions including recognition of Israel.

But the new US administration needs to find ways to communicate with all those involved or capable of defusing tensions, sooner rather than later.

Otherwise, a showdown in Gaza will leave the Obama administration with a big humanitarian and strategic mess on its hands in its first days in office. If this explosive microcosm of the greater Middle East region blows up, it will destroy any US attempt at a fresh start in the region.

Source: Al Jazeera

Here is the link to the original story:

Here is a link to the CBCnews report. Gaza

I will continue to watch this situation and post information as I find it.

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> posted by Trevor Hammack @ 3:20 PM   1 comments links to this post


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