IMEU: Eilat Attacks and Escalation in Gaza

FOREVER! Gaza in our hearts!

INSTITUTE FOR MIDDLE EAST UNDERSTANDING
IMEU ~ 21 August 2011

In Gaza City on August 20, 2011 ~ murdered by Israel

A deadly three-pronged attack by unidentified gunmen on Israeli soldiers and civilians near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat on Thursday triggered a serious escalation in violence, with Israel launching three nights of air raids on the Gaza Strip.Following the attacks, Israeli forces also pursued the attackers into Egypt, where Egyptian security officers were shot dead, sparking a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
Prior attacks
Even before Thursday’s attack, Israel carried out a series of deadly military actions in Gaza last week.Early on Tuesday 16 August, Israeli warplanes launched an airstrike that killed a 29-year-old Palestinian man. The Israeli military said the strike was in response to a rocket from Gaza that caused no damage or injuries.In a separate incident later on Tuesday, Israeli troops shot dead a teenager near Gaza’s boundary with Israel. Palestinian medical officials said the teen was shot more than 10 times.
Triple strike
According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, six Israeli civilians and one soldier were killed during Thursday’s triple attack.In the first incident, men following a public bus opened fire with Kalashnikov assault rifles. The attack took place on Israel’s Highway 12, about 12 miles north of the city of Eilat.

In the second incident, an Israeli military vehicle several miles away was hit by a roadside bomb, while mortars were fired at workers building a fence along Israel’s border with Egypt.

The third incident was a gun battle between Israeli forces and militants. According to the UN peacekeeping force in the Sinai, Israeli forces pursued the gunmen across the Egyptian border, and an Israeli helicopter fired on Egyptian security officers, killing at least three of them.

Gaza blamed

Israeli officials immediately blamed the attacks on Palestinian armed groups from Gaza, claiming the gunmen crossed into the Sinai Peninsula through tunnels from Gaza, and then infiltrated Israel.

“This is not speculation, not conjecture, not joining the dots. They are sure these terrorists left Gaza,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

In the first Israeli airstrike following the Eilat attacks, Israel targeted the leadership of the Popular Resistance Committees, a secretive armed group in Gaza. According to the Palestinian news agency Maan, the strike hit the home of official Khaled Shaath, who was killed instantly. His two-year-old son Malek later died of injuries sustained in the strike.

The raid, in the city of Rafah, killed four other men reported to be senior members of the PRC.

Following the bombardment, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “We have killed the heads of the organization that sent the terrorists.”

Lack of evidence

Aside from the insistence of Israeli officials, no evidence has come to light clearly linking the Eilat incident to any group in Gaza. Indeed, Hamas and the PRC themselves denied responsibility for the attacks.

In addition, the governor of Egypt’s North Sinai region, Abdel Wahab Mabruk, denied militants had entered the territory from Gaza, citing his country’s heavy security presence in the area.

In a striking turnaround on Saturday, the Israeli military’s chief spokesperson, Lt. Colonel Avital Leibovitz, denied that Israel blamed the PRC for the Eilat attack.

In an interview with The Real News Network’s Lia Tarachansky, Leibovitz said, “We did not say that this group was responsible for the terror attack. We based this on intelligence information as well as some facts that [we] actually presented an hour ago to some wires and journalists.”

As evidence that the attackers came from Gaza, she said, “Some of the findings that were from the bodies of the terrorists, and they are using, for example, Kalashnikov bullets and Kalashnikov rifles [which] are very common in Gaza.”

Leibovitz’s claim makes little sense, however, since the Kalashnikov is the most popular gun on the planet, with more than 75 million produced since the Second World War. Paul Woodward, the author of the blog War in Context, responded to this assertion saying, “that’s about as logical as saying they know they came from Gaza because they appeared to be Arabs.”

Gaza under fire

Despite the apparent lack of concrete evidence linking the Eilat attackers to groups in Gaza, Israel pressed ahead with an air offensive on Gaza.

The first night of airstrikes left a total of seven Palestinians dead, including a 13-year-old boy named Mahmoud Abu Samra, who according to medics was killed when Israeli warplanes struck a Hamas intelligence compound in Gaza City.

After three nights of Israeli bombardment, the death toll in Gaza stood at 14 Palestinians dead and more than 40 wounded.

The bombing also damaged civilian infrastructure, including government and NGO offices, water and sewage pumps, and a psychotherapy clinic.

Lopsided response

Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including the PRC and the military wing of Hamas, responded to the Israeli strikes by launching rockets into Israeli territory.

Some of these rockets were homemade projectiles – so-called Qassam rockets – that ordinarily have a maximum range of five kilometers, although some have been recorded to fly up to 20 kilometers (12 miles). These crude rockets are completely unguided and rarely cause casualties.

Armed groups also fired Grad missiles, another primitive weapon, originally developed by the Soviet military in the 1960s. In contrast with the Qassam, however, the Grad is in fact a deadly weapon. One Israeli man was killed by a Grad fired from Gaza into the city of Beersheba on Friday.

By any measure, however, the armaments of the Palestinian guerilla fighters are no match for those of the Israeli armed forces. In three days of strikes on Gaza, the Israeli military has already used American-made F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters, along with unmanned aerial drones.

Israel is one of the best-armed states in the region, possessing more than 500 combat aircraft, more than 3,300 tanks, nuclear weapons, and its own communications and surveillance satellites.

End of the ceasefire

After 24 hours of strikes, the military wing of Hamas, Al-Qassam Brigades, announced on Friday that it no longer considers itself bound by a unilateral ceasefire that had been in place since the end of Israel’s winter offensive in Gaza in 2009.

The truce was agreed upon by all of the armed factions in Gaza, and was periodically reaffirmed in consultations among the groups. However, a handful of small, radical Salafist groups refused to abide by the ceasefire.

In spite of intermittent confrontations, the ceasefire had produced relative calm in Gaza and its surroundings. The Hamas government took pains to enforce the truce, frequently jailing members of splinter groups who violated the agreement.

Hamas and the rival Fatah movement reaffirmed the ceasefire when they signed a reconciliation agreement in April 2011.

Although some Palestinian individuals and groups violated the ceasefire over the course of two and a half years, Israel has violated it with far more deadly consequences.

According to data compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, from the end of the 2009 offensive until 28 July 2011, Israeli military action killed 202 Palestinians in Gaza.

By contrast, during the same period, according to the UN database, Palestinian armed groups killed only three Israeli soldiers. Israeli government data show that Palestinian shelling from Gaza during this time killed another two people.

FOREVER! Gaza in our hearts!

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War in Context: Israel’s security strategy — when in doubt, assault Gaza

by PAUL WOODWARD ~ 21 August 2011

 

A Palestinian man carries the body of Islam Greagea, a five-year-old boy killed in an Israeli air strike, at a hospital in Gaza City on August 19, 2011


Three days after the attacks by gunmen outside Eilat in southern Israel, what do we know about the identities of the gunmen? Almost nothing.

In the mainstream media they are blithely referred to as “Palestinian gunmen” yet so far the only basis for this description is the unsubstantiated word of Israeli officials. Those officials have provided no real evidence to back up their claims.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to assign responsibility for the attacks with the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees yet both they and Hamas denied any involvement.

Generally speaking, Palestinian militant groups are not shy about claiming responsibility for attacks against Israelis — especially those that can be described as military operations where Israeli soldiers are killed or injured. Indeed, the problem is more often that too many groups — not too few — want to claim the honor.

This suggests a rather obvious explanation about why no Palestinian group announced that it directed the attacks: it wasn’t a Palestinian operation.

The Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson refused to endorse Netanyahu’s assertion about the PRC role and the only “proof” of Palestinian involvement the IDF presented was the use of Kalashnikovs — as though 100 million Kalashnikovs, 20% of the firearms available on the planet, are now stockpiled in Gaza!

What other evidence is there about the gunmen? They were wearing Egyptian military uniforms.

Just before the Eilat attacks, Egyptian security forces declared Operation Eagle — an effort to bring security to the lawless Sinai — a success.

Deputy Interior Minister Ahmad Gamal Eddin said at a press conference last week that the campaign has so far managed to arrest members of al-Takfeer wal-Hijra and to collect arms and illegally acquired military uniforms.

Militant Salafists based in the Sinai are believed to have been periodically blowing up the Egypt-Israel gas pipeline this year. They are well-armed and possess Egyptian military uniforms. Were they behind the Eilat attacks? It seems a bit more plausible than the IDF’s Kalashnikov-based analysis.

Meanwhile, Hamas has once again agreed to take the lead in enforcing a ceasefire with Israel.

A Hamas official in Gaza says that all of Gaza’s militant groups have agreed to a cease-fire aimed at ending a three-day round of violence with Israel.

The official says Egypt helped broker the cease-fire, which will go into effect this evening. He says Egypt told the groups that Israel would halt its airstrikes only if the Palestinian groups stopped shooting first, and that Hamas security personnel would enforce the agreement.

He spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday because the agreement had not officially been made public.

Earlier on Sunday, AP reported that Israeli officials arrived in Cairo. Moreover, Israeli sources confirmed that the reduced IDF strikes on Gaza in the last 24 hours was an intentional move aimed at allowing Egypt to mediate a cease-fire, as well as out of fear for the defense and diplomatic relationship with Egypt.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a harsh warning to those responsible for the latest rocket fire on southern Israel, saying those who act against Israel “will have their heads separated from their bodies.”

Thus speaks Israel’s own Salafist military commander.

In Gaza: Stars and Bombs

August 5 2011 via In Gaza

israeli F-16 Bomber

We are watching the sky, sleeping on the roof to escape the heat. I flatter the clouds’ beauty and am watching sporadic shooting stars when the first F-16 appeared from the direction of the sea. No sound, just a blinking red light quite high up.  Three more follow. Their roar slowly becomes audible and they drop a couple of flares.

We trace their path, above us, chilling.  The roar is normal, F-16s are normal, and reading in the news the next day that some part of Gaza was bombed is normal. They continue eastward and a bombing seems imminent.  It is. A thick cloud of black smoke blots the dim lights of houses in eastern Deir al Balah where the F-16s have struck.

Their roar doesn’t disappear yet.

They’re bombing Khan Younis, Emad says matter of factly. Not a hard guess, what else are they doing up there at nearly 2 am.

He keeps working on his laptop and I keep sleepily tracing the sky, watching this time for their re-appearance not for shooting stars.

After a few minutes of re-contemplating the sky, we know precisely where they’ve gone.

Two massive blasts, the house shakes. They’ve bombed somewhere near the sea, which is only a few hundred metres away.  I remember the shakes of the Ezbet Abed Rabbo house Leila and I were in when F-16s were flattening the area during the Israeli war on Gaza in 2008-2009.  One directly behind that house, the walls ready to cave in; one across the lane some 30 metres away, leaving a massive crater.

The night sky is orange again, gone are the stars and romance.

He is hugging me, pushing my head down to the ground, protecting from any flying debris. Pointlessly he tries to protect me, but when the blasts are on you no amount of hugging and ducking will do.

A bit of confusion… to stay rooftop or run down to the ground. I remember when the Sharouk building with various media outlets was repeatedly hit by smaller missiles, not the one-ton F-16 crater-makers.  The building danced and it felt like the stairs had turned into one long slide, to take us from the 9th or 10th floor down light speed.

The drive to see what happens next is strong, leaving us not wanting to abandon the roof.  We stay, and soon his brothers appear to see where the blasts have hit. We go down to check on his parents, thankfully asleep, hard of hearingness a relief this time. We go back up and the orange has gone, its grey and starless now.

“It’s raining” says Emad.  I’m confused, think he means the bombing triggered some weather reaction.  Concrete dust flutters down upon us, the dry kind of rain. The ambulance sirens wail, the Red Crescent or Ministry of Health ambulances will be racing for the site.  If they are late, the dead and injured will be piled into any car near the explosion that still moves.  There is a sustained honking in Gaza that everyone recognizes as make way, we’ve got another victim here.

Now 3 of his brothers are rooftop with us and going over the blasts.  For a Strip that has seen so many Israeli terror bombings over the years, this latest –comparatively far away at a few hundred metres –has hit a nerve even with these men putting on bravado. They are brave, of course, and endure psychological war in addition to actual blasts.  Every time one of those fucking F-16s flies over us, it’s a reminder of the last war, or of previous attacks, or of random bombings, or of friends and family martyred in their sleep, cars, homes…

Everytime those F-16s intentionally break the sound barrier to create a bomb-like sonic boom, everyone within range instinctively remembers their own personal horror at whichever Israeli war or attacks.

His brothers are talking about their children, how one child clinched up into a ball in his sleep, how hard is for all the children.  But their rapid banter betrays them: its hard for them as well.

In true Palestinian style they mask any fear they might be feeling—as any human should be feeling in these circumstances –with jokes and teasing.

Were you scared? they tease me.  Yes and no.  Once again numb from the fear, as I was during the 23 days of Israeli bombing Gaza in winter 2008-2009, but that horror of what comes next always exists.  How many martyrs will there be? Inshallah none.  Is this the start of the next Israeli slaughter of locked-in Palestinians or will that come tomorrow? What the hell will I do when I am not here… not like I can stop any of this, not like I can protect them any more than Emad’s loving attempt. How can I possibly ever leave here, when that next massacre is always looming from those Israeli war machines above and around us?

The Zionist news tomorrow will blather on about a strategic strike against terror.  But rearrange their scripted words and you get the truth: it is a strategic terror against Palestinians, as always, and involved living, breathing, dreaming, working human beings below those terrorizing F-16s, breathing the dust of another bombed building.

2:30 am

Emad and I are sleeping, not sleeping but lying down, inside this time, not that that makes any difference.  I’m thinking shit,shit,shit, how can I ever leave him and his family and my friends and everyone here? We’re both lost in our own heads, thinking about the blast.

Blast. Another one.  It’s louder inside, because of the echo.  Thankfully the windows are open; blasts like that shatter windows; we’d have a glass shard rain upon us this time.

His younger brother is coming back from work at his grocery shop, laden with yogurt and hummus for “suhoor”, the morning meal before fasting begins anew. His ears are ringing from the nearness of the bomb but he hides whatever anxiety he surely haswith grins and chatter.

They re-play the same jokes made on the roof earlier. It’s for Ramadan, they’re giving us fire-works, they’re making a party.  They’re helping us wake up (we slept through suhoor yesterday, not even hearing the mild beating of the street drummers who circle waking people up for a meal and prayer).

Emad’s father is unplussed. He doesn’t feign bravado or joke, just sits a little sleepily and looks at his paper with the prayer times written down. He goes to the nearest mosque five times a day, including the early morning prayer. He’s lived a long, hard life, expelled from his farm land and village which is now buried under some Israeli name, reared a family in one of Palestine’s many, many, impossibly overcrowded refugee camps where families slept in tents for years until they improved to stifling concrete block homes with entire families in one single, dank room. He’s worked to educate his many, many sons and daughters. He’s lived through all the Zionist hell Israel dishes out, from his expulsion to the occupation and horrors that go with that to the sporadic bombings to the full-out invasions. He’s lost a son to cancer that couldn’t be treated properly because he couldn’t access the needed medical care outside of Gaza.

So when all of us are gibbering or teasing or mulling the last bomb blast, he is off somewhere in his head but his expression doesn’t betray it.  And I think he’s only really concerned about being on time for the next prayer. A life of repeated drama is enough to render bomb blasts somewhat insignificant.

It’s the same target as half hour ago, but this time surely there are casualties, people who waited some minutes before going to see the damage.  Israel, of course, knows this.  During the last war on Gaza, first Israeli bombings would be followed just one or two minutes later, sometimes 5 minutes, by another bomb in the same place. Family and friends who’d come to help rescue bomb victims would themselves be torn apart by the second and third blasts. A technique guaranteed to get the bystander civilians who come to rescue, if not the medics.

We return to sleep, wary.