It’s been a busy noisy day in Israel on day 5 of Operation Pillar of Cloud. Here are the highlights from the Times of Israel liveblog (part 2):
For the fourth day in a row, Tel Aviv is the target of Hamas attacks, and Iron Dome carries out successful interceptions. Amid rumors of a halt to fighting, Israeli officials tell The Times of Israel that Jerusalem is not currently interested in a ceasefire. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the IDF’s campaign will be expanded, hinting at a looming ground operation. The IAF, in the meantime, is targeting key Hamas personnel, and killed the chief of Hamas’s rocket program.
Since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, the IDF has hit some 1,000 targets in the Gaza Strip, with Palestinians reporting 52 dead. Gazan terrorists have fired some 750 rockets at Israel and Iron Dome has shot down nearly 270, including three aimed at Tel Aviv. Israel’s death toll stands at three, with dozens more injured, including two badly hurt in Ofakim and three in Ashkelon on Sunday.
01:13 Amid ceasefire rumors, Israeli officials tell our Raphael Ahren that Jerusalem is not currently interested in a ceasefire, adding that the IDF’s campaign might be expanded and could continue for weeks, if necessary.
Operation Pillar of Defense will only end after Hamas has been dealt a serious blow, they vow.
“In parallel to the military effort, there is a diplomatic effort [to stop the rocket fire on Israel],” says one Israeli government official. “But the operation will continue until we can be sure that the people of Israel’s south will no longer live under constant fear of rockets — and that goal will be achieved, one way or another.”
01:23 Palestinian sources are reporting that a mid-level Islamic Jihad operative by the name of Tamer Hamri was killed in an Israeli airstrike. Hamri reportedly headed Islamic Jihad’s artillery unit in the central Gaza Strip.
02:52 Quoting Israeli officials, the Daily Beast reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday assured President Barack Obama that Israel would not launch a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip “unless there was escalation from Hamas or a strike that caused significant casualties.”
The report quotes Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, as saying: “If they keep shooting at 5.5 million Israelis at the current rate we will have no choice but to use all necessary and legitimate means to defend our citizens and that includes possible ground action.”
The prospect of Israel ground forces invading Gaza is looming large, after Israel upped the number of reservists it has called up since last week to 75,000. The step is presumably meant to show Israel “means business,” sending to Hamas the signal that if rocket fire doesn’t taper out, Israel’s infantry and armored corps will come knocking.
According to Palestinians, 50 have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday.
Rocket attacks on Israel ceased at around midnight Saturday, and had yet to resume at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. On Saturday night, Palestinians fired dozens of rockets at southern Israel, injuring six. So far, of some 800 rockets fired by Gaza terrorists, around 300 have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Sirens warning of rocket fire are heard in the Sdot Negev and Sha’ar Hanegev regions. The alarms bring an end to a relatively quiet night that saw no rocket attacks on southern Israel since around midnight. The rockets land in unpopulated areas. No reports of injuries or damage.
Since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, 490 rockets have hit Israel. Iron Dome intercepted an additional 270.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office says the air force conducted 70 airstrikes on terrorist targets overnight, a total of 1,000 since Wednesday afternoon.
Schools in southern Israel are once again closed today.
From 08:25 on and off throughout the day there are constant sirens and missile attacks or shoot-downs by Iron Dome.
Following (at 10:15) is a touching story of two Israeli dairy farmers from opposite ends of the country:
As rockets fall on the south, two dairy farmers are being interviewed on Army Radio — one from Kibbutz Ein Harod and one from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai — northern and southern kibbutzim, respectively. It’s an extraordinary conversation — each of them recalling wars and mini-conflicts when they were unable to milk their cows, each stressing how they’ll get through any conflict.
The dairy farmer from up north recalls how his friends from down south came up to help them out after the Second Lebanon War in 2006. His colleague down south says he hopes they’ll reciprocate when this round is over. “And you’ll bring some vodka down with you too,” suggests the program’s host Razi Barka’i.
Soon after the interview ends, a female voice interrupts broadcasts to announce a red alert for more imminent rocket falls. She reels off a long list of locations in the south where people must head to secure areas. And minutes after that, the radio reports that one rocket has fallen on a dairy barn. No immediate reports of injuries.
Israeli insane humanity:
10:27 The Hebrew media is reporting that the Keren Shalom border crossing, linking southern Gaza with Israel, has been reopened to allow supplies of medicine and food into Gaza.
I was slightly party to this next item. I was talking to a friend from Tel Aviv who sounded amazingly blasé about her experiences with the 3 previous alarms on Thursday, Friday and Shabbat. As we were talking she said “Oops, there it goes again, must go” And then I realised I could hear the siren too from a distance, and not just over the phone. I stood in my corridor until I heard a distant boom – the Iron Dome.
10:36 Air-raid sirens heard across cities in the center of Israel. Channel 2 reports that two rockets were successfully intercepted by Iron Dome over Tel Aviv. This is the fourth day in a row that Tel Aviv has been targeted by long-range missiles from Gaza.
Hamas claims responsibility for the missiles, believed by Israel to be Iranian supplied Fajr-5 rockets. The Israeli air force reportedly destroyed the rocket launcher that fired the missiles towards Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai praises Iron Dome.
From 10:51 onwards, we once again see a constant barrage of rocket fire, this time Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beer Sheva appear to be bearing the brunt of the attacks.
At 11:49 the PM issues an official statement:
Prime Minister Netanyahu releases an official statement from the Sunday cabinet meeting. In it, the PM says that the “Gaza operation continues, and we are expanding it. I appreciate the rapid and impressive mobilizations of reservists from all over the country…regular and reserve soldiers are ready for any command.”
The PM says the IDF has caused “significant damage” to terrorist infrastructure from strikes on over 1,000 targets in Gaza. He says strikes will continue.
“Today I will continue to consult with world leaders,” the PM says. “I appreciate the understand they are showing for the right of Israel to defend itself. I have emphasized in these conversations the effort Israel does to avoid harming civilians, and how Hamas and other terrorist organizations make every effort to hit civilian targets in Israel.”
Netanyahu said he talked with US President Barack Obama at the end of last week and thanked him for his support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and for the American people’s contribution to the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system.
12:10 Israel Radio is reporting that the person injured in the recent rocket strike on Ashkelon was a fireman. The man reportedly lost a lot of blood and was transferred to Barzilai Hospital in the City.
The IAF is clearly targeting key Hamas personnel, several of whom were killed on Saturday. Aircraft also bombed the Hamas command center in Gaza that housed the bureau of Hamas’s Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Haniyeh’s spokesman now says the Hamas prime minister has gone underground “for security reasons.” Haniyeh got the message that he might be a target, says the spokesman, when the IAF struck at the command center where his office is situated. The spokesman also vows that Hamas “resistance” will continue until the occupation of Palestine is over.
Several Israeli politicians including Environment Minister Gilad Erdan said last week that they hoped IDF operations would extend to Hamas political figure
Outrageous statement of the day (or one of the many outrageous statements):
13:31 UK Foreign Secretary William Hague tells Sky News that both he and Prime Minister David Cameron have stressed to their Israeli counterparts that a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of its international support and sympathy. He says it would be much more difficult to avoid civilian casualties during a ground invasion and that a large ground operation would threaten to prolong the conflict.
Chutzpah doesn’t even begin to cover this statement. Afghanistan anyone? Iraq? Who does he think he is telling Israel not to invade a hostile territory on its doorstep when Britain sent troops to two countries (and more) 10,000 miles away. Perfidious Albion indeed!
(UPDATE: See Israel’s response below at 18:14)
Back to Part 2:
14:27 Reports coming now of a large volley of rockets launched toward communities in the south, Beersheba, and coastal areas.
Ynet reports that two rockets have landed in Beersheba, one damaging a building and one landing in an open area next to an apartment building, and two have landed in Ashdod, one of which damaged a vehicle in a parking lot. No reports of injuries.
15:01 The latest barrage from Gaza consists of 18 missiles fired around 2 p.m., of which Iron Dome intercepted 15, Ynet reports.
15: 16 President Barack Obama reiterates that the US is “fully supportive” of Israel’s right to defend itself, saying that no country would tolerate missiles on its citizens.
15:26 A building in the southern town of Ofakim has reportedly suffered a direct hit from a Hamas missile. One woman was lightly injured by shrapnel and several other people were treated for shock.
15:54 IDF says target of building bombed in Gaza City was Yihya Abiya, who, as commander of Hamas’s rocket brigades, was directly responsible for the missile attacks on southern Israel this morning. Reports say Abiya was injured although his condition is not known.
16:06 Israeli media reports that Yihya Abiya, commander of Hamas’s rocket firing brigades, was killed during the airstrike on a house in Gaza City less than an hour ago.
16:31: IDF Spokesperson’s Office says that 99 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip in the past four days have exploded in Gaza, injuring locals. It gave no indication of how many Palestinians have been injured or killed on account of stray Hamas rockets.
16:43 BBC correspondent Wyre Davis reports that 10 Palestinians are confirmed killed in a house that was bombed earlier on Sunday in Gaza City.
The Gaza Health Ministry says that 18 Palestinians have been killed on Sunday, including 9 children. A total of 64 have reportedly been killed since Operation Pillar of Defense started on Wednesday, 24 of whom, it claims, were children.
16:56 UPDATE: Channel Two reports that two parents and an infant were taking cover next to their car in Ofakim when a rocket landed 10 to 15 meters away, spraying them with shrapnel. The mother and father are listed in moderate to serious condition and the infant suffered light injuries. The three were taken to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.
Two more people in the area suffered light injuries from the rocket attack.
17:19 Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday morning that in addition to Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel is waging a war on a second front – against anti-Israel cyber attacks.
According to Steinitz, Israel has successfully deflected some 44 million attacks against government websites in the past four days.
Steinitz made no reference to the group “Anonymous,” an online activist group that claimed on Saturday that it successfully attacked dozens of state agencies’ websites and that of the Bank of Israel, in addition to having downed or erased the databases of some 700 private and public websites in Israel.
On Saturday, “Anonymous” released a statement saying “For far too long, Anonymous has stood by with the rest of the world and watched in despair the barbaric, brutal and despicable treatment of the Palestinian people in the so called ‘Occupied Territories’ by the Israel Defence Force…but when the government of Israel publicly threatened to sever all internet and other telecommunications into and out of Gaza they crossed a line in the sand.”
Steinitz said that the government has developed backup for “essential websites” in case they are successfully disabled by hackers.
18:04 Reuters reports that Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip have wounded eight journalists. One employee from Lebanese al Quds TV lost his leg earlier on Sunday. The IDF says it hit two Gaza media buildings.
The IDF, according to Reuters, said the attacks “were pinpoint strikes on Hamas communication devices located on the buildings’ roofs,” and accused Hamas of using journalists as human shields.
The two buildings in Gaza City are home to British Sky News, German ARD, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, Beirut-based al Quds television and other broadcasters.
Perhaps the journalists should have checked out who owns the building they use.
18:14 Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon has struck back at British Foreign Secretary William Hague for saying Israel would lose international support if it embarked on a ground-based offensive. Ya’alon told reporters he expected Israel’s allies to support it unconditionally and that he didn’t appreciate Hague’s statement.
He added that the army did not launch Operation Pillar of Defense to topple Hamas, but rather to return calm to the rocket-stricken south.
Ya’alon said that Israel had killed Hamas rocket chief, Yihya Abiya, and that the IDF considered every official from the terror group fair game.
Good for Ya’alon for saying it as it is. And shame on the British. But I repeat myself.
The next item happened right over my head – or at least, that was what it sounded like: a huge explosion, out of the blue, shaking my windows, but no air-raid sirens. I almost had a heart attack from fright and I thought – well, I didn’t know what to think. I grabbed my phone and ran to my corridor (an internal space with reinforced concrete ceiling) and didn’t even attempt to get to the bomb shelter downstairs. I was pretty upset and shocked to put it mildly. It turned out the boom was the Iron Dome shooting down the missile. I just wish we’d have had a siren just to give me some advance warning, but our local emergency call-center said the sirens are only activated if we’re in danger. I asked if danger of heart attack counts, but for some reason they were highly amused at my query.
My cat meanwhile slept through the whole thing. I bet she’s a Hamas plant.
Seriously speaking, what I experienced today is just a taste of what the residents of the south have been experiencing daily, several times a day, for years upon years. Saying kol hakavod and kudos to them is nowhere near strong enough to express my admiration. They all deserve medals of valour.
And now to the item:
18:42 Red-alert sirens are going off in the Greater Tel Aviv area. Two explosions are reported by Channel 2. Iron Dome fired interception missiles, and both were shot down.
Channel 10 reports another Iron Dome interception over the coastal city of Ashkelon.
As was expected, Reporters without Borders complain about Israel’s bombing of a Hamas building which also housed journalists’ offices:
19:27 Reporters Without Borders has condemned Israeli missile attacks on two media centers in Gaza that wounded six Palestinian journalists Sunday and damaged the equipment of foreign media outlets, according to an AP report.
The attacks on the two high-rise buildings damaged offices of the Hamas TV station, Al Aqsa, and a Lebanese-based broadcaster, Al Quds TV, seen as sympathetic to the Islamists. Germany’s public broadcaster ARD; Russia Today, a state TV network that broadcasts in English; and Sky News Arabia said they lost equipment in the attacks.
A Gaza press association said six Palestinian journalists were wounded, including one who lost a leg.
Christophe Deloire, the director of Reporters Without Borders’ international headquarters in Paris, called the attacks unjustified and a threat to freedom of information. He demanded an investigation into the circumstances of the raid.
“Even though the outlets targeted are linked to Hamas, it does not legitimize the attacks,” he said. “Attacks against civilian targets constitute war crimes.”
The Israeli military said the strikes targeted Hamas communications equipment on the buildings’ rooftops and accused the group of using journalists as “human shields.”
More excellent targeting by the Israel Navy:
20:24 A missile fired from an Israeli Navy warship off the Gaza coast killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander, Channel 2 reports. The IDF Spokesperson identified the man as Ahmed Nahel, who it says was responsible for carrying out terrorist attacks, and says it carried out the missile strike this afternoon.
And another attack on a Hamas commander:
21:11The air force has struck the house of Marwan Issa, the replacement for late Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari, Channel 2 reports.
Are Sinai terrorists joining in the fun or are Hamas turning their missiles in the opposite direction?
22:29 Two explosions are reported in the southern resort city of Eilat, situated on the border of both Egypt and Jordan, according to Ynet.
As I write, there are still more missile attacks on southern cities, most of which are being downed by Iron Dome missiles.
Last words about the ceasefire:
22:12 Senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook said on Sunday evening that the terror group rejected two of Israel’s ceasefire demands out of hand, sinking talks in Egypt.
The first demand was that Hamas commit to creating a 1-kilometer buffer zone along the border with Gaza, beyond which people cannot enter. The width of the “no-man’s-land” currently varies at different points along the border, and averages about 300 meters.
The second condition laid down by Israel was that Hamas put an end to all weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.
Abu Marzook said that Israel’s conditions are meaningless and that Hamas demands an immediate ceasefire without any conditions.
As I said yesterday, much as I hate the idea of continued fighting and a possible ground invasion, it is absolutely counter-productive to make a ceasefire when not all our objectives have been achieved. There is no point in a temporary ceasefire if we have to do this all over again in another couple of years.
Stay updated by refreshing the Times of Israel link or visiting the Muqata’s live-blog.
May Hashem protect our soldiers and citizens, and may He give our leaders the sense and the wisdom to make the right decisions for Israel.