Once again apologies for the lateness of this blog post.
Day 6 of Operation Pillar of Cloud was marked by a decline in rocket attacks from Gaza and talk about a possible ceasefire.
“Decline in rocket attacks” however is only relative, and for the civilians under rocket fire it doesn’t make much difference if they are still being targeted with “only” 42 instead of 200 rockets.
After another relatively quiet night (even terrorists need their beauty sleep it would seem) the rocket fire opened up early this morning on the south. Today I bring you highlights from the Muqata’s live-blog:
7:21 AM Overnight actions:
IDF attacked 80 terror sites, 1,350 since the beginning of the operation.Underground rocket launching sites that shot at Kiryat Melachi were destroyed.Building belonging to senior terror officials were targeted that were used as command centers, or as weapon storage facilities.A number of rocket crews were killed.
From 9:29 onwards throughout the day until at least 6 p.m (scrolling from the bottom up) you can see a constant spate of rocket attacks on southern civilian communities, including a school in Ashkelon which was closed because of the hostilities, thereby saving the lives of many schoolchildren – unlike Hamas who deliberately place their children in the way of their rockets in order to create “martyrs”.
From the Times of Israel’s live blog:
Reports now indicate that the school in Ashkelon was in fact hit by a rocket, not debris from an Iron Dome interception as was thought possible. @IronDomeCount tweets, “Working at full capacity to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
There were no injuries. All Israeli schools within a 40-kilometer radius of Gaza are current closed.
A midday summary:
On the sixth day of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel upped the frequency of its airstrikes at the Gaza Strip, targeting smuggling tunnels, rocket launching squads, weapons and ammunition caches (including one located under Gaza City’s main soccer stadium), and terror groups’ field commanders. The death toll in Gaza stands at 84, roughly two thirds of which are combatants.
Meanwhile, terror organizations in Gaza continue to launch rockets on southern Israel, hitting an Ashkelon school, which fortunately was empty of students and staff. Iron Dome intercepted 35 rockets in the past 24 hours. Since the beginning of the operation, on Wednesday, 540 rockets were fired on Israel, most of them falling harmlessly in unpopulated areas.
In Cairo, Hamas and Islamic Jihad heads are convening with Egyptian military and intelligence officials in an attempt to reach a ceasefire agreement. An Israeli representative is also in Cairo to debate with the Egyptians. So far the sides have failed to find common ground.
40,000 reserve soldiers, belonging primarily to infantry and tank units, have been called up and are making final preparations to enter Gaza if so ordered.
13;24 Reports of five Ashkelon-bound rockets intercepted by Iron Dome in the last few minutes. Sirens continuing in Ofakim, Ashkelon and Eshkol.
14:09 A barrage of rockets, in the space of a few minutes, rains down on southern communities including Beersheba, Ashkelon, and Eshkol region. Iron Domes intercepts several rockets, some fall in open spaces, no reports of injuries.
14:43 IDF says that over the past five days a total of 877 rockets were fired by terrorists in Gaza at Israel. Iron Dome succeeded in intercepting 307 missiles.
According to the IDF Spokesperson, the number of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel was dropping. On Saturday there were 230 rockets launched, on Sunday there were 156, and as of now only 42 were fired on Monday.
Earlier, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai told reporters the Hamas’s rocket-firing capabilities were hurt, and the number of launches at Israel was getting smaller.
Reports coming now of an IAF strike on the offices of Hamas media arm al-Aqsa TV in Gaza. The multistory building houses offices of other media outlets. Al Jazeera describes smoke billowing out of the side of the building, confirmed by images broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2.
Moments ago, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who is now in Gaza, tweeted that he saw a building hit by multiple rockets in its lower floors and described an ambulance at the scene treating a severely burned man. Not clear if he is describing the same media building.
Islamic Jihad says the Israeli strike on a Gaza media center has killed one of its top militant leaders.
AP reports that the terror group sent a text message to reporters saying that Ramez Harb was killed in the strike Monday. Harb is a leading figure in their militant wing, the Al Quds Brigades.
It’s the second strike on the building in two days. The Hamas TV station, Al Aqsa, is located on the top floor.
BBC reporter Paul Danahar tweeted a picture of the building shortly after the blast, showing the second and third floors blown out and a fire raging.
In a worrying development, rockets were discovered in Lebanon:
The Lebanese Army discovers two rockets in southern Lebanon on Monday that had been prepped for launch southwards at Israel, the Lebanese National News Agency reports.
Lebanese Army sappers have defused two Grad rockets armed and ready near the village of al-Mari, four kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the Lebanon-Israel border, according to the report.
According to the Associated Press, the rockets were Katyushas found in the neighboring village of Halta, and were equipped with timers.
In even more worrying news Hamas tried to attack Israeli planes:
18:18 Hamas launched at least 10 anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli planes since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense, Walla News reports.
The army believes the group revealed those weapons in an attempt to down an Israeli plane, which would be a first for the terror organization.
Another Ashkelon school has been hit. This is the second time a school there has been hit by rocket fire today:
A rocket fired from Gaza has hit a school in Ashkelon. This is the second time on Monday that a school in the city was hit by a Hamas missile. No injuries were reported, though the school building was damaged.
In the Eshkol region, a woman was lightly injured by a falling mortar. She was taken to the hospital for treatment.
19:33 Rocket that hit a school in Ashkelon caves the roof in on a classroom on the top floor. Footage from Channel 2 shows the extent of the damage. The classroom is wrecked, with rubble and dust strewn across the ruined desks and chairs. The two or three-foot diameter hole in the crumbled ceiling exposes the jagged rebar of the reinforced concrete.
No injuries are reported. School in Ashkelon has been canceled for several days.
There were several more rocket attacks and interceptions by Iron Dome towards the end of the day.
Meanwhile talk has begun of a possible truce. The Jerusalem Post reports:
Israel’s diplomatic and security cabinet met late Monday night to discuss the latest cease-fire initiatives with Hamas, as international leaders continued to press for an end to the hostilities in Gaza.
The government agreed to briefly hold off on sending ground forces into Gaza in order to allow time for cease-fire efforts in Cairo to continue, an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“Israel prefers a diplomatic solution,” the official said, but added that any agreement must provide a real solution that would erase the threat of rocket attacks against the South.
If such a diplomatic solution is not found, then Israel is preparing its ground forces to enter Gaza, the official said.
US President Barack Obama called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to underscore the necessity of ending Hamas rocket fire into Israel, and to talk about ways to de-escalate the situation.
He also spoke with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his third conversation with the prime minister since Operation Pillar of Defense was launched last Wednesday.
In both calls, Obama said he regretted the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives.
Mashaal proves that chutzpah is not only a Yiddish word:
In the middle of the afternoon, it appeared that Hamas and Israel were close to a deal, and that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had made a cease-fire offer to Israel.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo on Monday, in hopes of helping both sides reach a cease-fire deal. He is expected to arrive in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal claimed on Monday that Netanyahu had asked for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
“Netanyahu was the one who requested a cease-fire from the Americans, Egypt and the Europeans,” Mashaal told reporters in Cairo. “We were not the ones to ask for a ceasefire.”
Mashaal boasted that Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip managed to achieve a balance of power with Israel within 48 hours after the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam.
Mashaal accused Netanyahu of ordering the IDF to target Hamas-affiliated institutions and media outlets “to cover up for his crimes,” and said that while Netanyahu had succeeded in killing Jabari, “he has failed to restore his army’s deterrence capability.”
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office denied Mashaal’s claim that Netanyahu had asked for a cease-fire.
“We have been hitting Hamas very hard,” the official said.
He explained that Israel had attacked Hamas’s weapons arsenal, leadership, buildings and communication apparatus from the air.
“Hamas is under a lot of pressure and as a result, they are saying many things that are in no way connected to reality,” he said.
Netanyahu is right. It’s highly amusing to read Hamas’s take on reality. I’m not sure who they think they are kidding. I’d love to know if they believe their own propaganda.
Mashaal said that discussions to achieve a cease-fire were continuing, “but Hamas won’t succumb to Israel’s conditions.”
Hamas, he pointed out, was not opposed to a truce and is continuing to insist on the need to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip and halt Israeli military strikes.
“Netanyahu wants to negotiate with us with gunfire in order to impose his conditions on us,” Mashaal said.
He also criticized the US administration, accusing it of double standards in dealing with the current conflict.
“What kind of a logic is this that says that Israel alone has the right to self-defense?” Mashaal asked.
Ezat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, said Monday that his movement would not accept a cease-fire “at any price.” He claimed that Israel was in a state of “panic” because of the response of the Palestinian armed groups to the killing of Jabari.
Risheq said Hamas’s conditions for accepting a cease-fire were the lifting of the blockade and international assurances that Israel would stop its military operations in the future.
Israel, in turn, wants a security zone around the Gaza border and an end to the smuggling of weapons into the Strip.
The world and his wife appears to have turned up in the area to discuss a possible truce and to stick their fingers into the Middle Eastern pie:
Quartet special envoy Tony Blair told President Shimon Peres that Egypt, Qatar, America and the UN were working to put in place a cease-fire.
Peres said that he appreciated efforts by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to end the hostilities.
“Egypt is a significant player in the Middle East. Strangely, it is Hamas that doesn’t listen to the Egyptian president,” he said.
Peres accused Iran of pressuring Hamas to continue the conflict, saying that Tehran is supplying Hamas “with arms, training them and sending them money.”
On Monday night, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrived in Israel on Monday night, where he met with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, before heading to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius similarly held meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss the options for a Gaza cease-fire.
Russia on Monday urged an end to Palestinian rocket attacks and what it called disproportionate Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip, and said it may propose a UN Security Council resolution on the conflict.
I’m sure the Russians know all about disproportionate responses. Chechnya anyone? Grozny? Chutzpah now appears to be not only Yiddish and Arabic, but Russian as well.
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow may propose a Security Council resolution that would envisage ceasing violence on both sides before the resumption of peace talks, news agencies reported.
Chutzpah is Turkish too. Should we mention the Kurds?
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel on Monday of carrying out “terrorist acts” in its bombardment of Gaza.
“Those who associate Islam with terrorism close their eyes in the face of mass killing of Muslims, turn their heads from the massacre of children in Gaza,” Erdogan told a conference of the Eurasian Islamic Council in Istanbul.
“For this reason, I say that Israel is a terrorist state, and its acts are terrorist acts.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuloglu is expected to visit Gaza this week, possibly as early as Tuesday.
The Times of Israel gives us some details about both sides’ conditions for a truce:
In Egyptian-moderated ceasefire efforts, Egyptian sources have leaked some or all of the purported Israeli and Hamas truce demands — three from each side — which form an ostensible working paper.
Hamas wants: 1) all border crossings to and from Gaza opened 24 hours a day; 2) an end to Israeli targeted strikes on its personnel; 3) to keep its arms and have the rest of Gaza’s armed groups remain armed too.
Israel wants: 1) All terror groups disarmed; 2) a guaranteed halt to rocket attacks on Israel; 3) a guaranteed long-term ceasefire.
All this, according to Channel 2, being reported as alarms sound over Beersheba.
Udi Segal, the channel’s diplomatic correspondent, says Israel certainly wants a long-term ceasefire, and to create a wider buffer zone on the Gaza border.
Channel 2 columnist Ehud Ya’ari, analyzing Mashaal’s speech, says it essentially amounts to a denial that there is a ceasefire.
Al Arabiya is the only news organization reporting that Hamas and Israel have managed to come together.
Rockets have continued to be fired at the Eshkol and Sha’ar Hanegev regions in the past several minutes, indicating that an end to hostilities has not yet been reached.
Meanwhile, the IDF has just struck an Islamic Jihad cell in Gaza, Channel 2 reports
It should be noted that ceasefires are often proceeded by an increase in hostilities, as both sides attempt to get in their last shots before laying down their arms.
The European Union also put in its 2 cents’ worth:
17:05 The European Union is calling for an “urgent deescalation” of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, clearly placing its support behind Jerusalem’s effort to defend its citizens but calling on both parties to “act proportionately.”
“All attacks must end immediately as they cause unjustifiable suffering of innocent civilians,” the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council states in a resolution adopted in Brussels Monday evening. “It therefore calls for an urgent deescalation and cessation of hostilities. It supports the efforts of Egypt and other actors to mediate for a rapid ceasefire and welcomes the mission of the United Nations Secretary General to the region.”
The Council resolution further states that the EU “strongly condemns” the rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza and called upon Hamas and other groups to cease them immediately. “There can be no justification for the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians. Israel has the right to protect its population from these kinds of attacks; in doing so it must act proportionately and ensure the protection of civilians at all times.”
Skepticism about the value of a ceasefire at this stage was expressed by some:
Amid growing reports of a ceasefire emerging to end Operation Pillar of Defense, some residents of southern Israel are skeptical of the efficacy of such a truce. Edward Beaman, a Briton residing in Ashdod, expresses his wariness via Twitter:
Indeed, polls show that the Israeli public, while not in favour of a ground operation, hugely support both the current operation and are against a ceasefire at this early stage:
A poll taken by Panels for the Israeli Center for Political Training found that 85 percent of Israelis believe embarking on the operation was a correct decision. But when asked what should happen next, 45% said to continue air strikes, 22% said to seek a cease fire, and just 25% recommended a ground offensive.
A Dialog poll taken for Haaretz had similar results, with 84% supporting the operation, 39% saying it should be continued by air, 19% calling for an immediate cease-fire, and 30% backing a ground operation.
A Midgam poll taken for Channel 10 Thursday on the first full day of the operation found that 91% of Israelis supported it. Seventy-six percent called for it to continue and 22% said to seek a cease-fire.
Netanyahu and Barak fared well in all of the polls, which showed that an overwhelming majority of Israelis do not believe they began the operation for political reasons.
Let us hope and pray that G-d gives our leaders the wisdom and the courage to make the right decisions for Israel and to resist the urge for easy solutions.
May Hashem protect our soldiers and citizens and keep them all safe.