Day 4 of IDF’s Operation Cloud Pillar [a/k/a/ Defense Pillar] – Tunisia’s FM briefly visits Gaza without truce ahead of Arab League meeting in Cairo
Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem arrived in Gaza for a brief visit on Saturday morning — under continued firing and bombardment, without any truce arrangements — ahead of an emergency Arab League meeting scheduled for 3:00 in Cairo. The Tunisian FM’s crossing into Gaza via Rafah border point was announced by Hamas.
Al-Jazeera picked up here AFP’s report quoting Hamas interior ministry spokesman Islam Shahwan on Saturday morning, saying that the Tunisian delegation would head to “the headquarters of the government destroyed by the occupation this morning, where he will meet with government officials.”
NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel [@RichardEngel] tweeted a photo, posted here of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s office building, which had just been destroyed by an IDF air raid at 6:00 am Saturday:
@RichardEngel – Nothing left of hamas pm’s office in #Gaza http://yfrog.com/kfum8huj
The IDF later released a video of their strike on this building. It was Tweeted by Grant Rumley [@Grant_Rumley]: “IDF releases video of air strike on #Hamas’ PM Haniyeh’s headquarters here.
Only a few days ago, the Israeli Transport Minister called for the assassination of Ismail Haniyeh. Reports throughout the last days tell of naval firing near Haniyeh’s home in Shatia’[Beach] Palestinian refugee camp…
The Tunisian FM reportedly addressed crowd in Gaza, and called for a stop to Israeli aggression. He also urged all Arab leaders to visit Gaza.
Other targets reportedly struck in Gaza either overnight or this morning include: the Interior Ministry, again; the Parliament building [as in 2008]; the Police Headquarters [also as in Operation Cast Lead -- but this time empty or nearly so at 03:30 am, without a courtyard full of graduating cadets, so 275 were not killed]; the football or sports stadium; tunnels in Rafah.
The IDF also Tweeted that “Palestinian [outgoing] mortar fire damages electricity cable in southern Israel resulting in power outage in #Gaza”.
By middday in Jerusalem, the Palestinian death toll had risen to 39. And, there were reports of further talks being conducted in Cairo concerning a possible cease-fire between Israel + Hamas.
Overnight, U.S. President Obama called Egypt’s President Morsi and Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu [who thanked Obama for Iron Dome funding and other defense support].
The New York Times’ Helene Cooper wrote that “Though President Obama uttered immediate and firm public and private assurances [n.b.- after the start of the IDF operation on Wednesday] that Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks emanating from Gaza, administration officials have been privately urging Israeli officials not to extend the conflict, a move that many American officials believe could benefit Hamas. A protracted escalation, the officials fear, could damage Israel’s already fragile relationships with Egypt and Jordan at a time when both of those governments have been coming under pressure from their own populations … If Israel goes back into Gaza, both Egypt and Jordan — the only two Arab countries with peace treaties with Israel — would come under pressure from their people to break off ties”. The same article noted that “Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, the Israeli Air Force’s commander in chief, was in Washington early in the week — before the Gaza crisis began — and met with American officials, although it was unclear whether he warned them beforehand that Israel intended to launch a missile strike against the Hamas military commander”. . This NYTimes report is published here.
Indeed, strategic analyst Daniel Nisman [?@DannyNis] Tweeted that: #Egypt political parties issue joint statement urging revision of peace treaty: “Egypt no longer strategic treasure for #Israel”.
Israeli Ministers were ordered to stay silent after security cabinet meeting on Friday night. But, Israeli journalist ?Oren Kessler Tweeted [@OrenKessler] that Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman said: “#Israel has two goals in the Gaza operation. To rehabilitate our deterrence ability and destroy long-range missiles” (Channel 2)
This is something that Israel has done periodically.
The former New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, Ethan Bronner, returned to the region and wrote that “Many analysts and diplomats outside Israel say the country today needs a different approach to Hamas and the Palestinians based more on acknowledging historic grievances and shifting alliances … [But] What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one. The operative metaphor is often described as ‘cutting the grass’, meaning a task that must be performed regularly and has no end. There is no solution to security challenges, officials here say, only delays and deterrence. That is why the idea of one day attacking Iranian nuclear facilities, even though such an attack would set the nuclear program back only two years, is widely discussed as a reasonable option. That is why frequent raids in the West Bank and surveillance flights over Lebanon never stop. And that is why this week’s operation in Gaza is widely viewed as having been inevitable, another painful but necessary maintenance operation that, officials here say, will doubtless not be the last”. Ethan Bronner’s article is published here.
President Obama reportedly warned Israel’s PM Netanyahu against undertaking a ground invasion into Gaza — though this was not confirmed in the U.S. “read-outs’ of the conversation. Several European leaders have also made similar statements.
Richard Silverstein wrote on his Tikkun Olam blog: “Sheera Frenkel reports in the Times of London that a senior IDF officer told her the army has been moved to its ‘highest state of readiness’. In IDF jargon, this is called P+1, which means the entire army must be ready for combat on one hour’s notice. Israel will not invade Gaza during Shabbat (too many religious-settler soldiers who are observant). That means the invasion could begin as early as Saturday night, Israel time … [The ground operation of] Cast Lead also started at the end of Shabbat, January 3, 2009″. This is posted