When will the Gaza conflict end? No one knows
NEAR GAZA BORDER, Israel |
NEAR GAZA BORDER, Israel (Reuters) - Just before dusk over the Gaza Strip, a missile fired at Israel scores its distinctive corkscrew trail through the clouds of black smoke rising from multiple Israeli strikes on Gaza's main city.
Its unknown destination, somewhere in Israel, lies at the heart of this war, now ending its 16th day under a full, yellow moon. The rocket could explode anywhere -- in an orchard, a mall, a quiet suburb, but hardly an Israeli military position.
As the sun sets, an Israeli heavy mortar platoon in a green field fires 20 to 30 rounds at some Gaza target a mile (two kms) off.
Thin traffic goes up and down the nearby Israeli road, now a logistics line for tanks on transporters and other military vehicles, patrolled by military police.
An Arab Israeli taxi driver shepherding a Japanese correspondent on a day trip from Jerusalem walks up the hill by a ploughed field. Beneath a tree, in the gathering gloom, he makes his evening Muslim prayer while the mortars thump.
"It is very bad," he says. "Look at it over there. This is not fair fighting. These big weapons, they kill everything. Why does the United Nations not make them stop?"
Israeli forces are pounding Gaza with everything. Ground troops backed by tanks are tightening their noose on urban centres where Palestinian fighters are hunkered down.
Israeli Apache helicopters hover high behind the battle lines, ready to fire missiles at designated targets if required.
Israel says its aim is to stop militants firing rockets at random into Israeli cities to the east and north, and to ensure they cannot start up again after some failed truce.
The Islamists say they are resisting an Israeli state that they reject, that is bent on crushing them. For them this is the continuation of a battle that began at least 60 years ago when Israel was founded on what they consider their land.
Their crude missiles have killed four Israelis since the conflict began. But the death toll in Gaza approaches 900, at least a third of them civilians. Yet the militants keep shooting their inaccurate rockets, regardless of whom they may hit.
It seems clear that Israel can only kill so many before it loses what world sympathy it has. It seems clear also that the rocket firers, however many are left, are still willing to risk a devastating hit that would end all Israeli restraint.
"Israel is getting close to the goals which it set itself," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday. "But patience, determination and effort are still required in order to realise these goals in a manner that will change the security situation."
In other words, no one can answer the taxi-driver's worried question: "When do you think it will stop?"
Busloads of Israeli reservist troops heading south suggest the answer may be: not all that soon.
The full yellow moon rises over the Mediterranean shore that Gaza shares with Israel. There is another Israeli alert warning that rockets have been fired at the city of Ashkelon. All the citizens hear it.
A minute goes by with no audible blast. Is it another futile gesture?
The fires in Gaza smoke tall into the night. The city braces for more of the same on Monday.
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