Saturday, November 17, 2012

Israel Hits Hamas PM's Office, Readies Troops

Government Approves Call-Up of 75,000 Reservists; Egyptian Prime Minister, Visiting Gaza, Vows Support for Palestinians

[image] Associated Press
A Palestinian picks through debris after an Israeli air strike on the building of Hamas's Ministry of Interior in Gaza City.
CAIRO--Israel pummeled political targets throughout the Gaza Strip, including the office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, as the Israeli military continued preparations for a ground invasion.
The overnight offensive came hours before Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem entered the Gaza Strip Saturday morning, following in the footsteps of Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil Friday.
After another night of rocket attacks into Gaza by Israel, WSJ's Matt Bradley reports Saturday, November 17th, from the destroyed Hamas cabinet office in the Gaza Strip. Via WSJ's #WorldStream.

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil made a historic visit to the Gaza Strip amid the biggest flare-up of violence in years between Israel and Hamas, underscoring the acute dilemma Egypt's new Islamist government faces. Matt Bradley has details from the Gaza Strip on The News Hub. Photo: Getty Images.

Photos: Conflict in Gaza Strip, Israel

Ali Ali/European Pressphoto Agency
Smoke rose from Hamas sites after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City Saturday.

The parade of foreign dignitaries exposes the profoundly altered diplomatic contours since the "Arab Spring" of revolutions upturned an old order of U.S.-backed autocrats whom Israel could count on as reliable partners.
But a ground invasion would drastically raise the stakes for a worsening conflict that has already stretched the Middle East's delicate diplomatic balance, even as the U.S. prods Egyptian diplomats to arrive at a negotiated truce.
The decision by Mr. Abdesslem, like Mr. Qandil, to literally wade into the midst of fighting presents a bold--if symbolic--challenge to Israel's government. The political brinkmanship has diplomats worried that a new generation of Arab leaders, who are beholden to their voting publics for the first time, may feel compelled to take action against the Jewish state.
The Israel Defense Forces reported in a statement Saturday morning that they had struck "over 200 targets" including "120 underground rocket launchers and more than 20 smuggling tunnels" on the coastal enclave's border with Israel, according to the IDF's website.
IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav (Poly) Mordechai said Israeli bombs had also struck Hamas's police headquarters and its homeland security building in Gaza City, the main city in the coastal Palestinian enclave.
imageGetty Images
Relatives grieve at the funeral of one of the three killed in an attack on Kiryat Malachi, Israel.
The Israeli government is "continuing to amass forces for a possible ground invasion," the IDF reported.
This came after Palestinian rockets struck near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and as neighboring Egypt escalated its own war of words against Israel.
Late Friday, Israel's cabinet approved the call-up of 75,000 Israeli reservists, more than doubling the number authorized the previous day. Heavy armor and soldiers from two elite brigades continued to mass at staging grounds on the Gaza border. A decision to launch a ground invasion could come within 24 to 36 hours if rocket fire continues, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told CNN Friday.
"They don't call up all these reserves to keep people standing in the stands watching," said a senior Israeli military official. "After rockets on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it's pretty hard not to" order a ground invasion.
For three hours Friday, Mr. Qandil visited the Gaza Strip and stood hand-in-hand with leaders of Hamas, the militant and political group that rules Gaza.
Israel had pledged to hold its fire during Mr. Qandil's three-hour visit. But rockets from the Palestinian territory could be heard taking off toward Israel, even as the Egyptian premier spoke to reporters.
In Singapore, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling on a trip to Southeast Asia, a senior U.S. official said Saturday that the U.S. is "working overtime" with countries in the Middle East to de-escalate the rising violence.
Mrs. Clinton has been in touch with top officials in Israel, Egypt and Jordan in a bid to get Hamas to stop firing rockets on Israeli cities and to avoid the need for Israel to invade Gaza, the official said.
"Every nation has a right to take steps" to end threats such as those Israel faces, said the official, who is accompanying Mrs. Clinton on the trip. "We are working overtime" with regional countries to allow the situation to de-escalate "so that decision [of an Israeli invasion] does not face us."
"We believe that there is an opportunity to de-escalate if Hamas and those engaging with Hamas take the necessary steps to create a situation of calm—and stop firing rockets," he said.
The emerging question in the latest conflict—which was sparked by a rise in Gazan rocket attacks on Israel earlier this month, and broke into the open when Israel assassinated Hamas's top military commander Wednesday—is how far Egypt's new Islamist government can extend itself on the behalf of its ideological allies in Hamas.
Egypt is a peace partner of Israel. Its gasping economy depends on Western largess and its military is largely funded by the U.S. In recent days, U.S. President Barack Obama has had several calls with Egypt's recently elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, aimed at bringing Hamas in line. During Friday's call, the White House said, President Obama commended Egypt's efforts to de-escalate the siguation.
"Morsi's room to maneuver is very limited," said Ofer Zalzberg, a Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group. "He is dependent on the West. Everything he has done so far is pretty standard, not very different than what [former President Hosni] Mubarak would have done. Even sending the PM to Gaza, he declared that only after his conversation with Obama. So he's not out there acting unilaterally."
If Israel's leaders give the order for a ground assault on Gaza, it would be the first such operations since 2009 and would plunge Israel's government into risky territory—risking soldier casualties and steep political fallout should the operation go awry, and jeopardizing its international backing.
Israel's three-week ground war against Hamas in 2009 left more than 1,000 Palestinians dead, and destroyed entire villages and much of Gaza's infrastructure. Israel's image tanked internationally as it fended off war-crimes accusations..
Israel hit the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and artillery shells for a second straight day Thursday and Hamas ramped up rocket fire at Israel, as both sides widened hostilities in the conflict's bloodiest escalation in four years. Charles Levinson has the latest from Tel Aviv on The News Hub.
After Friday prayers at the Azhar mosque in Cairo, worshipers chanted anti-Israel slogans in response to the clashes between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Video by WSj's Sam Dagher via #WorldStream.
On Mr. Morsi's orders, Mr. Qandil arrived in Gaza on Friday morning to demonstrate his new government's clear policy break from Mr. Mubarak's more-pro-Israeli regime. In a visit unprecedented for such a senior Egyptian official, he met with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh before visiting wounded civilians at a crowded Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

In a chaotic news conference at Shifa Hospital amid hundreds of reporters and blood-spattered doctors, Messrs. Qandil and Haniyeh blasted Israeli aggression and declared a new unified front against Israel.
"It isn't a matter of individuals, not a matter of community. It is a matter of a nation. The Arab nation, the Islamic nation," Mr. Qandil said. "We are all behind you, the struggling nation, the heroic that is presenting its children as heroes every day."
It remained unclear what message Mr. Qandil relayed to Hamas. In the days leading up to Wednesday's Israeli attack, Egypt was busily trying to broker a cease-fire between the combatants. A Western diplomat in Israel said the Israeli offensive had further angered Egypt's government because Cairo believed that Israel had feigned interest in the Egyptian-mediated talks earlier in the week as a diversionary tactic so that Hamas would let its guard down.
The Israeli government remains confident that, despite the tough talk from Mr. Morsi's government, there is little risk that Egypt would do anything to undermine the peace treaty with Israel. "There's ongoing dialog and channels open between the defense establishments of Egypt and Israel," a senior defense official said.
One of the missiles fired from Gaza during Mr. Qandil's visit set off sirens in Tel Aviv for a second straight day, followed by a loud explosion. Israeli police officials said the rocket appeared to have fallen into the sea off Tel Aviv. Another rocket, fired on Thursday, was intercepted by Israel's missile defense system. Later Friday, two rockets hit near Jerusalem, falling harmlessly in open areas, according to Israeli officials.
The strikes on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem—the first ever for Palestinian rocket teams—underscored the significant upgrade to Hamas's weapons arsenal in recent years, which could also increase the costs of a ground invasion.
Meanwhile, of the 75,000 Israeli reservists approved for call-up late Friday, 16,000 have been called. The military posted and emailed pictures of its elite paratroopers preparing equipment near Gaza's border.
"A ground maneuver is a political decision," said Capt. Eytan Buchman, an Israeli military spokesman. "But we're ready to carry out the order whenever it comes."
If Israel halted its offensive now, even with a reciprocal cease-fire agreement from Hamas, the strikes on Israel's two most important cities would remain the enduring memories of the conflict and could allow Hamas to claim victory, the defense official said.
Hamas officials accused Israel's air force of targeting Prime Minister Haniyeh's home Thursday evening amid a massive overnight escalation. Mr. Haniyeh wasn't there at the time, Hamas said, and it was unclear whether his home was in fact hit. If true, the accusation that Israel targeted a nominally elected top leadership figure in Hamas would mark a serious uptick in Israel's controversial "targeted killing" effort against Hamas leaders.
Israeli officials denied targeting Mr. Haniyeh's home.
By Friday evening, Israel's military said it had carried out over 500 strikes in Gaza. In a single hour early Friday morning, the military said it hit 70 different targets, mostly earthen pits militants use as launchpads in central and northern Gaza.
Palestinian militants have fired approximately 600 rockets at Israel since hostilities began, including more than 150 Friday. Of those, 400 have struck Israel, but only 30 have hit urban areas, according to the military. Israel's newly deployed Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted 180 urban-bound rockets, the military said.
Israel's strikes have killed 28 Palestinians, about half of them militants, and wounded more than 270, according to Gaza health officials. Three Israelis have been killed in a single rocket strike on an apartment complex in southern Israel on Thursday.

No comments: