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Gazan Crossroads
[Analysis] Ousting Hamas or long term modus vivendi
Yehonathan Tommer (tommery06)     Print Article 
Published 2008-12-31 08:41 (KST)   
After four days of massive aerial bombardment Israel stands at a crossroads: Does it want a regime change in the Gaza Strip or will it accept a long term modus vivendi with Hamas if its leaders agree to halt missile and all other attacks on bordering Israeli rural communities and towns.

Squadrons of Israeli fighter planes have knocked out more than 400 sites targeting Hamas military headquarters and key government offices, installations, supply tunnels, missile development laboratories and weapons production facilities, as well as storage bunkers and rocket launchers, Israeli military officials say. The aerial pounding has left a charred trail of destruction.

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Apart from the deaths of unaccounted militants, more than 300 Palestinian civilians including children have been killed as many of the shelled targets were located inside residential buildings.

Needless to say, the heavy Israeli bombing has left a trail of hate, fear and a thirst for revenge.

On the Israeli side, six people including a 27-year-old Beduin construction worker in Ashkelon have been killed by direct missile hits and mortar fire which have wrecked scores of Israeli homes. Dozens more victims suffer from shell shock and trauma. Hamas has demonstrated it is capable of extending the range and accuracy of its hits.

One Million Israelis in Hamas Missile Range

Close to 1 million Israelis, including residents of major southern cities like Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba are now within a 30 to 40 kilometer radius threatened by short-range Qassem rockets and longer range Grad missiles. In four days of hostilities, Hamas has fired a total of 3,000 rockets.

The Israelis estimate it has stockpiles of another 2,000 short range Qassem rockets and several dozen grad missiles which could allow Hamas to continue fighting for another 20 days. It has been hit hard but has not been knocked out and is not ready to hoist a white flag.

Some 6,700 Israeli infantry reservists were mobilized on the first day of the operation code-named "Cast Lead." On Tuesday the Cabinet approved a call-up order for another 2,500 reservists. The troops are threateningly massed along the Gazan border waiting for a Cabinet order to invade.

Its decision largely rests on the advice given by the Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Gabbi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. During the six-month ceasefire Haaretz reported that the IDF had meticulously tasked several war games ranging between a blitz incursion to routing Hamas from power and reoccupying the Strip. Heavy casualties are likely in combat fighting with Hamas militants and a retake of the Gaza Strip would forfeit Israel its current international sympathy.

Israel is resolved to widen the operation to attain the declared goal of "creating a better security reality that restores quiet to the western Negev and deters future attacks against civilians and troops," Barak said.

Arab Mediation to Renew Ceasefire

Eyes are now turned toward Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and France whose representatives will hold urgent talks in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Meshel. If he agrees to a 48 hour "humanitarian lull" from which the warring sides can move into negotiations for a renewed ceasefire and internationally guaranteed open border crossings Israel will find it difficult to reject a temporary halt in hostilities that would effectively block its planned ground invasion. French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to present his plan to the Israelis in Jerusalem on Monday.

Israel can meanwhile continue aerial bombardment of Hamas military infrastructures before American and European leaders return from their Christmas-New Year break to apply pressure on both sides to halt hostilities.

An open schism has clearly emerged in the Arab world. Cairo and the Palestinian Authority are bitterly accused by Islamic fundamentalists Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran of colluding with the Israeli operation. Along with moderate Arab and Gulf states, they blame Hamas for precipitating the Israeli military operation by ending the ceasefire and resuming rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Outraged mass demonstrations have swept Arab capitals.

But President Hosni Mubarek, insisting that Gaza is an Israeli problem, has firmly refused to open the Rafah border crossing to allow in food supplies and permit Palestinians to flee across the border to Egyptian Rafah.

Smokescreen of Disinformation

The Israeli operation is being conducted under a heavy smokescreen of disinformation. Gazan border crossings have been closed to Israel-based foreign correspondents. Reports, pictures and video footage emerging from the war zone are those supplied by Palestinian stringers to the international news agencies, and the few Gazan-based foreign journalists.

Since the operation began on Saturday noon Israel has allowed 400 truckloads of food, and medical supplies from Jordan, Turkey and international aid organizations to enter Gaza to avoid charges that its blockade and military activity is creating a humanitarian crisis.

There is no way in real-time of checking Israeli claims that popular unrest against Hamas is growing in Gaza or that Hamas is manipulating information about its embattled security situation and the scope of damage it has suffered; or that the organization's leaders, allegedly, have abandoned the public and gone into hiding to avoid assassination.

"Israel can expect many surprises if it sends in its troops," a Hamas member of parliament Moshir al Masri told Haaretz. "They can start a military campaign but only Hamas can end it."

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Should Israel implement a cease-fire in Gaza?  (2009-01-02 ~ 2009-01-26)
Yes
No
I don't know
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Yehonathan Tommer

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