Israel, Palestinians put lid on Gaza, for now

TEL AVIV/GAZA Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:58pm GMT

1 of 4. An Israeli police explosive expert carries the remains of a rocket, fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza, after it landed in the southern town of Netivot November 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad

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TEL AVIV/GAZA (Reuters) - Israel and the Palestinians stepped back from the brink of a new war in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, sending signals to each other via Egypt that they would hold their fire unless attacked, after five days of mounting violence.

The tacit truce arrested an escalation to all-out fighting, but both sides remain armed and primed for another round in the unresolved conflict that has festered since Hamas Islamist militants took over the enclave in 2007.

Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Gaza's Hamas government, praised the main armed factions in the enclave for agreeing on Monday night to a truce.

"They showed a high sense of responsibility by saying they would respect calm should the Israeli occupation also abide by it," he said.

Haniyeh spoke during an unannounced visit to a hospital to see wounded Palestinians. Some Israeli leaders say it is time to resume the controversial tactic of assassinating Hamas leaders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consulted his inner circle of ministers in Jerusalem. One of them, Benny Begin, said the flare-up had subsided but the conflict was far from resolved.

"This round of firing appears to have ended and things must be looked at soberly without illusions for both sides," he said.

Netanyahu promised Israelis security.

"Whoever thinks they can harm the routine lives of southern residents without paying a very heavy price is mistaken," the prime minister said in a radio speech. "And I am responsible for us exacting this price at the most proper time."


Three Palestinian fighters and four civilians have been killed by Israeli fire since Saturday, and 40 others wounded. Eight Israeli civilians were injured by some of the 115 rockets fired from Gaza and four soldiers were wounded by the anti-tank missile that hit their jeep and fuelled the fighting.

An official involved in the Egyptian mediation confirmed both sides were ready to stop.

"The message was clear and Israel too told Egypt they were not interested in escalation if rocket firing stopped. The situation now is calm for calm and I hope it does not deteriorate," the official told Reuters

Israel struck three targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Tuesday, including what the army said was a weapons depot and two rocket launch sites. There were no casualties.

Only one Palestinian rocket strike was reported in Israel by 10.00 a.m. (0800 GMT) on Tuesday.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters Israel was not prepared to forgive and forget following four days of violence.

"The matter has definitely not ended and we will decide how and when to act at the time when there will be a need," he said.

Israel has shown little appetite for a new Gaza war, which could strain relations with the new Islamist-rooted government in neighbouring Egypt. The countries made peace in 1979.

But Netanyahu will be reluctant to seem weak ahead of a January 22 election that opinion polls currently predict he will win.


Hamas is emboldened by the rise to power in Egypt of its spiritual mentors in the Muslim Brotherhood whom it views as a "safety net" that would stop an all-out Israeli onslaught.

The Palestinian Islamist movement believes it now presents a challenge that Israel's military superiority cannot easily best.

"This assault and other assaults by the occupation will not break the will of the Palestinian people and their steadfastness in the face of barbaric Israeli attacks," Haniyeh said.

Israel invaded Gaza in their last war in January 2009 in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. International critics said Israel used "disproportionate force".

Strategists say there is no obvious military solution to the conflict, barring re-occupation of a territory Israel held from 1967 to the unilateral withdrawal of 2005. And re-occupation would be a security nightmare.

Hamas, ruling 1.7 million Gazans, does not recognise Israel and pledged to win all of Israeli territory by force for the Palestinians. Its stand is in stark contrast to the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which recognises Israel and is ready to make permanent peace in return for a state.

The gulf between them poses a seemingly insoluble obstacle to the goal of a peace treaty establishing a Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Comments (3)
Rouffiac wrote:
It looks increasingly as though Israel intends to absorb the West Bank in its entirety and live with an apartheid scenario, though this would obviouly be a slow form of destruction for the Jewish state. I assume this since the necessity is that the settlers withdraw to allow a two-state solution, and that’s never going to happen, so annexation is the only way. It makes me wonder what would become of Gaza in that event. Israel doesn’t want it, except as a convenient weapons testing facility, and it would add to the demographic nightmare of the Jewish state, so it probably won’t be annexed.

On the other hand, even Bibi would probably stop short of just bombing it to ruins.

By the way, doesn’t the author opf this peice think that the sentence “Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist. It fought a three-week war with Israel in 2008-2009 in which some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.” is perhaps a little inaqequate? Surely when an overwhelming force bombs and shells a largely civilian enclave under its protection it isn’t strictly a war, so much as a massacre?

Nov 13, 2012 1:12pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
finchley wrote:
The attack on Gaza was called Operation Cast Lead. The Israeli government shot themselves in the foot.

Of the 13 Israelis killed, six were killed by friendly fire from the Israeli forces. That leaves seven killed by Hamas etc. A ratio of 1 Israeli to 200 Hamas etc is staggering. It was rarely achieved during the Second World War and then only by the Gestapo, who were out-and-out criminals.

I fear Rouffiac is probably right. I wonder how the Israeli government is going to eliminate the Palestinian question.

Nov 13, 2012 5:32pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
Wvandamme wrote:
Rouffiac. My idea is that Israel will at some time use an excuse to send all the non-Zionist Jews across into Sinai or the Jordan River to get a pure Zionist Jewish state. For this I think they are at the moment working to have a wholesale civil war among Muslims. Once this really starts they can use the ensuing chaos to establish their wet dream. That’s why Western media always talk about Shia versus Sunni in order to get the civil war in place. Its devious.

Nov 13, 2012 7:46pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
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