Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Cease fire ensues after Hamas rocket barrage against Israel

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Rafael Harpaz, Israeli ambassador to the Philippines

 

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Israel has the right to defend itself.

Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz said Israelis will defend themselves from rocket attacks coming from Gaza.

“We need to defend our cities,’ Ambassador Harpaz said. “They’re shooting rockets at schools, houses and innocent people.”

The Israeli diplomat admitted that this was a big challenge.

Ambassador Harpaz laid the fault to the latest flare up of fighting on Hamas, which was receiving support from the Iranian government. This was aggravated by the hostile activities staged by the terrorist group Islamic Jihad.

The Israeli diplomat gave this statement on Nov. 12 during the BusinessMirror’s Coffee Club Forum in Makati.

The night before the press conference, Hamas launched a massive rocket attack against civilian targets in Israel.

ROCKETS FROM GAZA

According to reports, Israeli forces and Hamas have been trading heavy fire for at least 48 hours. Hamas was launching heavy rocket barrages against Israeli targets while Israel hit back with airstrikes at selected targets in the Gaza strip.

The fighting has been described as “the most intense exchange of fire” since the 2014 war.

Israeli firefighters work at the scene where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit in Sderot, Israel. Israel’s military says it is prepared to step up its efforts against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip if rocket fire at Israel continues. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

 

The Israeli Ambassador told the Philippines Graphic that his government wanted peace but it will still take steps to defend Israel against hostile acts.

Israeli airstrikes had destroyed Hamas group’s TV station. The ambassador said around 85 Israelis have been wounded in the rocket attacks. Reports said that one man was found dead under the rubble of a building in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, which was hit by rockets launched from Gaza.

EGYPT STEPS IN

The Egyptian government then worked to implement a cease fire between Israel and Hamas.

Ambassador Harpaz recognized the Egyptian diplomatic moves, adding that his government had signed a peace treaty with Egypt on March 26, 1979.

The diplomat noted that after several years of deadly rivalry with Egypt, that peace treaty with a former foe was concrete proof that Israel wants peace with its neighbors.

His words aligned with the official statement from the Israeli government acknowledging Egypt’s efforts to broker a cease fire.

BOTCHED RAID

The Associated Press reported that the rocket fire was triggered by a botched Israeli military raid in Gaza on Nov. 11. Undercover troops, apparently on a reconnaissance mission, were discovered inside Gaza, setting off a battle that left seven militants, including a Hamas commander, and an Israeli military officer dead.

Around sundown the next day, militants launched some 100 rockets in less than an hour, the most intense barrage since the 50-day war four years ago. The outgoing rockets, which continued into the evening, lit up the skies of Gaza and set off air raid sirens throughout southern Israel.

By Nov. 13, at least 300 rockets had been launched from Gaza, the Israeli military said, adding that up to 70 of them were intercepted by the anti-missile defense system Iron Dome.

The military said warplanes, helicopters and tanks had struck over 70 militant targets, including military compounds, observation posts and weapons facilities. It also said it targeted a squad that was launching rockets.

The airstrikes and rocket barrages resumed at dawn after nearly two hours of calm.

TENSE BORDER

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the army had sent additional infantry troops, rocket defense systems and intelligence units to the Gaza frontier.

“We continue to strike and retaliate against the military targets belonging to terrorist organizations in Gaza, and as for our intentions we will enhance these efforts as needed,” he told reporters.

An Israeli airstrike destroyed the Gaza City headquarters of Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV station. Israel had fired warning shots ahead of the airstrike, prompting the station to halt programming and replace it with a logo. Minutes later, the airstrike flattened the three-story building and the station went black.

Workers had evacuated the building after the warning shots, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the bombing as “a barbaric, brazen aggression.” Ten minutes later, the station resumed broadcasts, airing prerecorded national songs.

Israel said the station “broadcasts violent propaganda” and provides “operational messaging” to militants. A five-story office building that housed Hamas media offices and another building used by Hamas’ internal security service were also destroyed. No casualties were reported.

CALL FOR REVENGE

Hamas and the smaller militant group Islamic Jihad said the rocket fire was revenge for the Israeli incursion. Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab said the groups wanted “the occupation and its supporters know that the lives of our sons come with a price.”

In all, well over 300 rockets were fired into Israel by midnight, the army said. The Israeli military said it intercepted 70 rockets, and most of the others fell in open spaces. But rockets landed in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, setting off a large fire near a shopping center. Several homes were hit in southern towns, including one that was destroyed in Ashkelon. Around midnight, a rocket struck another building in Ashkelon, wounding at least 10 people, including one woman in critical condition, according to police and rescue workers.

Earlier, a bus was struck by an anti-tank missile, critically wounding a 19-year-old soldier. The strike set the bus on fire, sending a large plume of black smoke over the area. Gaza militants released a video of what they said was the attack, showing a bus pulling up to an open area before going up in flames. The video, with ominous music playing, showed Israeli soldiers milling about the area.

CEASE FIRE

Fortunately, Egypt’s efforts to get Hamas and Israel to agree to a cease fire succeeded.

Reports said Hamas and other militant groups had accepted an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire to end two days of intense fighting with Israel that had pushed the sworn enemies to the brink of a new war.

The sudden announcement brought relief to a region that had been paralyzed by hundreds of Palestinian rocket attacks in southern Israel and scores of Israeli airstrikes on targets in the Gaza Strip. But it did not address the deeper issues that pushed Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers toward their latest violence and left doubts about international efforts to forge a broader truce agreement.

Those efforts had appeared to be making progress in recent days as Israel allowed Qatar to deliver financial aid to the cash-strapped Hamas government, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he wanted to avert an “unnecessary” war in Gaza. Hamas, in turn, had scaled back its mass protests that have led to weekly bloodshed along the Israeli border.

Ambassador Harpaz said his government was giving Hamas room to avoid violence.

“Up to the last inch,” Ambassador Harpaz told the Graphic.

But hours after Netanyahu spoke, an Israeli commando unit on an undercover mission was caught behind enemy lines in Gaza by Hamas militants. This discovery led to the latest flare up in fighting.

The Israeli military said that Palestinian militants fired 460 rockets and mortars into Israel in a 24-hour period, while Israel carried out airstrikes on 160 targets in Gaza.

With air raid sirens wailing throughout southern Israel and the explosions of airstrikes thundering in Gaza, the sides had appeared to be headed to what would have been their fourth war in a decade.

QUIET FOR QUIET

But by Nov. 15, Hamas and other military groups issued a joint statement saying they had accepted an Egyptian cease-fire.

Terms of the deal appeared to be modest. Daoud Shehab, a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad militant group, said each side would promise quiet in exchange for quiet.

“It’s a mutual commitment to the cease-fire,” he said. “From our side, we responded positively to the Egyptian endeavor on the condition that the occupation does the same.”

The announcement set off celebrations in Gaza City as Hamas supporters declared victory.

At a demonstration staged in the rubble of Hamas’ TV station, demolished by an Israeli airstrike, crowds chanted the name of Hamas’ military wing. Shops reopened and cars jammed the streets. Israeli reconnaissance drones continued to buzz overhead.

FINGER ON TRIGGER

Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, expressed Hamas’ commitment to the cease-fire but warned that “our hands are on the trigger” if Israel violates the agreement.

In Israel, officials had no comment on the cease-fire claim even as dozens of protesters in the rocket-battered town of Sderot chanted “Disgrace!” at what they saw as the government’s capitulation to militant violence. But after nightfall, both the rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes had stopped.

The announcement came shortly after Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet ended a seven-hour discussion on the rising tensions in Gaza.

The Cabinet said it had ordered the military to “continue operations as needed.” Israel’s Channel 10 TV reported deep divisions among the participants, with several hardline ministers reportedly opposed to another cease-fire with Hamas.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group that opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of the Gaza Strip from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Israel and Egypt immediately imposed a blockade on Gaza to contain Hamas. The blockade has ravaged Gaza’s economy, and Israel refuses to lift it unless Hamas disarms, a demand the militants reject.

POLITICAL TENSION

The standoff has produced repeated rounds of violence, including indiscriminate Gaza rocket fire at Israeli towns and cities and punishing Israeli military offensives, but Hamas remains firmly in control. Netanyahu’s apparent reluctance to launch a full-scale war reflected the lack of good choices at his disposal.

Israel Ziv, a retired general who once commanded the Israeli military’s Gaza division, said Netanyahu was running out of options for dealing with Hamas.

“Either we come to a settlement or there’s an all-out campaign. Nothing in the middle is going to make a difference,” he said.

The cease-fire did not appear to address any of the underlying issues, including the blockade and Hamas’ vast arsenal of rockets, and it was unclear whether U.N. and Egyptian efforts toward a broader deal might resume.

U.N. and Egyptian mediators had been making progress in recent weeks toward informal understandings between Israel and Hamas that would ease the blockade in exchange for ratcheting down the border protests.

Demonstrators each week approach the border fence, throwing firebombs, grenades and burning tires at Israeli troops. Israeli snipers have killed about 170 people, most of them unarmed. Israel says it is defending its border against attackers, but it has come under heavy international criticism for shooting unarmed people.

In recent days, Israel allowed fuel shipments to increase the power supply in Gaza, which suffers from frequent blackouts, and agreed to additional Qatari assistance to allow Hamas to pay the salaries of its thousands of unpaid workers.

A diplomatic official said the cease-fire included an “understanding” to return to a 2014 cease-fire that promised some relief for Gaza in exchange for quiet.

The official said he expected a return to the situation before the latest burst of violence and for mediators to resume their efforts. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters at U.N. headquarters that “we are grateful for the Egyptians who are mediating.” G

 

 

 

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