Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: B'Tselem

B’Tselem [summary executions are categorically prohibited]: “International law categorically prohibits the extrajudicial killing of civilians – regardless of the allegations against them”.  This is written in a statement concerning the public killing of 7  men during the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Clouds who were accused of being “collaborators” with Israel.  Some senior Hamas officials, including deputy politburo chief, Mousa Abu Marzook, condemned these executions. [See here.] It is not clear whose idea these executions were. This B’Tselem statement is posted here.

B’Tselem [media sites are not legitimate military targets]: “international humanitarian law is very clear on the subject: Neither reporters nor any other civilians may be intentionally targeted, and every feasible precaution must be taken to protect them from the impact of hostilities. Additionally, the media – including those belonging directly to the parties to the conflict – are not legitimate military targets, even if they are used to disseminate propaganda. Where there exists any doubt as to whether or not a target is military or civilian – that target is to be presumed to be civilian … In a statement issued by the IDF Spokesman immediately following the first attack, on the a-Shuruk Building, the Israeli military stated that the attack had been directed at ‘antennas used by Hamas for military operations against the State of Israel in the northern Gaza Strip’. In a later statement, the IDF Spokesman clarified that both attacks were directed against the communications infrastructure of Hamas, which it claims Hamas uses to communicate operational instructions and disseminate propaganda …

Continue reading Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: B'Tselem

Notes on the cease-fire

Worries that the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was weak and wobbly increased on Friday when a large group of some 300 Palestinian men reportedly entered the no-go zone inside the perimeter fence east of Khan Younis.

One Palestinian was killed and 23 injured by Israeli troops.  Anwar Abdul Hadi Qudaih, 20, reportedly was hit in the head with a live bullet.

According to Maan News Agency, “A relative of the dead man, who was at the scene, told Reuters that Qudaih had been trying to place a Hamas flag on the fence”.   That was Friday.  Maan also reported that some 200 Palestinians had approached the perimeter fence the day before, Thursday.

Anwar Qdeih

A photo said to be of Anwar Qudaih or Qdaih, standing on the Israeli-built fence, posted with the Al-Jazeera story published here.

Al-Jazeera reported that “Most of those approaching the fence were young men, the Associated Press news agency reported, but the crowds also included farmers hoping they could check on their farm lands in the buffer zone…Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza City, said the farmers may have been confused about the current terms of access to the 300-metre wide buffer zone as Wednesday’s truce stipulates easing of travel restrictions.  They may have thought that they can now travel there, she said…”

Israel declared the  no-go zone in recent years, and from time to time increased it.   The “rules” could change at any time, and were never completely clear, except when the Israeli Army shot at people, some were wounded or killed.  Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote after the cease-fire that “The current confrontation broke out after Hamas tried to create a counter-perimeter on the Israeli side”… Continue reading Notes on the cease-fire

"Gaza is the Palestinian state" – UPDATED

UPDATE:  It seems that the premise of this post — that Ismail Haniyeh expressed support for the UNGA move planned by PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas — may [or may not] be wrong.  A Hamas spokesperson [though not Haniyeh himself] reportedly denied that Haniyeh said this.  [AFP reported later that “Last week, Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement denied a report by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya had expressed support for the UN bid in a phone call with Abbas”. The AFP account is posted on the Al-Ahram website here.] This post was amended. But, even later reports suggest that our original reporting was correct. Hamas will at the very least not oppose the move [and may actually even support it]…
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Of all the surprises that emerged from the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Clouds, one of the most significant is the pair of statements — after the cease-fire agreement — by the two top Hamas political leaders indicating their support for a Palestinian state.

Hamas was supposed to have done this before [several times], but then swiveled.

Now, just after the cease-fire, Khaled Meshal, long-time head of Hamas political bureau, said Wednesday night in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “I support a Palestinian state in 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital + the right to return”.  This was posted at here.  This interview can also be viewed here.

Amanpour was part of the caravan of top media stars who had flocked to Israel and to Gaza, with their entourage of producers and camera persons and assistants, during Operation Pillar of Clouds.

She had been reporting in Israel. Then, suddenly, she Tweeted on Monday that she was heading to Cairo to do the interview with Meshal.

On Friday 16 November, she Tweeted this: @camanpour — “In Israel. Reporting on growing fears of an all-out war: http://abcn.ws/U35bg7”

Then, on Tuesday 20 November she Tweeted @camanpour — “En route to Cairo for an EXCLUSIVE interview with Hamas’ political leader Khaled Mashal”.

On Wednesday 21 November, she sent out these Tweets:

@camanpour — “I’m in Cairo – just finished an EXCLUSIVE interview with Hamas’ political leader: http://on.cnn.com/XC7ESH”

@camanpour — “Khaled Meshaal says Hamas thought there was actually a deal last night, but Israel refused some points”

The cease-fire was announced late on Wednesday 21 November, in a joint media appearance in Cairo by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr, It was confirmed by a press appearance in Jerusalem by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, flanked by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Then, by a press conference in Cairo by Hamas’ Khaled Meshal, on an adrenalin high, and Islamic Jihad’s Ramadan Shallah.

In Amanpour’s interview, aired shortly after that, Meshal spoke in the first person: “I support a Palestinian state in 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital + the right to return”.

But, what did that mean? Was Meshal indicating that this was just his personal position?

The next day, Haniyeh appeared to repeat what Meshal said.  Haniyeh and Meshal are the two top political leaders of Hamas.

However, Haniyeh noted that he would like to see a Palestinian state on “all Palestinian land”.

[In both of his statements, Haniyeh also added another condition: the freedom of the Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.]

With these statements, Haniyeh and Meshaal seem to have dispelled concerns that they might be working for a separate state in Gaza.

More than that — Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank now appear to agree on pursuit of state recognition within the UN.

In a day-after, post-cease-fire press conference in Gaza on Thursday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh seemed to say he supported Abbas’ move to get acknowledgement and acceptance of Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital — with the right of return.

A Hamas official later reportedly denied that Haniyeh said this.

But, even later, Hamas officials were indicating that Hamas will, at least, not publicly disagree with the Abbas move.

FURTHER UPDATE: On Monday 26 November, after the confusion described above, Ma’an News Agency posted a story saying that “Hamas chief-in-exile Khalid Mashaal telephoned President Abbas on Monday to confirm the Islamist movements’ support for the upcoming UN bid, the official news agency Wafa reported”. This is posted here. The Wafa story is posted here.

UPDATE: The New York Times reported Saturday, here, that “[Ahmed] Yousef, a former Haniya adviser who now runs a research organization…said Hamas, which has opposed the United Nations bid almost as vociferously as Israel, would no longer speak against it. Asked about his vision for a Palestinian state, Mr. Yousef’s contours echoed those of Mr. Abbas: 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital”. The NYTimes described Yousef as “an analyst close to the Hamas leaders”.

UPDATE: Daoud Kuttab wrote on the Huffington Post site here that “Mohammed Ramahi, a Hamas legislator and spokesman for the group’s parliamentary faction, has told Al Jazeera that Hamas will support the UN initiative”.

UPDATE: AFP reported that in a Ramallah rally organized to support the UNGA move, “Abbas said the attempt to secure upgraded status was backed by many UN member states and by all the Palestinian political factions…Abbas reportedly told those assembled: “Today, the UN. After that, reconciliation, and after that, our own state”.

UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency reported that “President Mahmoud Abbas met Saturday evening with Hamas figures in the West Bank at his Ramallah office, according to sources present at the meeting. The meeting discussed Abbas’ bid for upgraded UN membership, due for a vote on Thursday, as well as reconciliation between Hamas and his Fatah party, attendees said. Nasser al-Shaer, a former government minister and Hamas deputy, said after the meeting that he supported the UN bid.” This is posted here.

UPDATE: Adam Shatz has just written in the London Review of Books that “If Israel were truly interested in achieving a peaceful settlement on the basis of the 1967 borders – parameters which Hamas has accepted – it might have tried to strengthen Abbas by ending settlement activity, and by supporting, or at least not opposing, his bid for non-member observer status for Palestine at the UN. Instead it has done its utmost to sabotage his UN initiative (with the robust collaboration of the Obama administration), threatening to build more settlements if he persists”.

UPDATE: Daniel Levy [Senior Fellow and the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation — and the real drafter for the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative] this week wrote that Hamas has helped develop and push forward the promotion of a real Palestinian state with state status in the UN: “the idea of any future peace arrangements including a Palestinian agreement to demilitarization just became more remote … Fatah and the PLO cannot be dismissed in Palestinian politics, but their longstanding approach of currying American favor, in the hope of delivering Israel absent the creation of Palestinian leverage and assets, has run its course. They appear to have missed the boat in leading a popular campaign of unarmed struggle and the PA’s security cooperation with Israel looks distinctly unseemly in the eyes of many Palestinians…And a likely U.N. General Assembly vote on Palestine observer state status has in all likelihood been reduced to a sideshow … This past week demonstrated that Europeans not only lack a coherent policy to the Palestinians; they are also missing such a policy vis-à-vis Israel … If the Palestine vote takes place at the UNGA, Europe should vote in favor not because of some mathematical computation of strengthening one Palestinians faction at the expense of the other, but rather because it is the right thing to do if Europe is committed to a two-state outcome. Europe might also be useful in utilizing some of the leverage it has with Israel as an outrider to an America still boxed in by its own politics…Russia and China will have enjoyed embarrassing the Americans and some Europeans this week at the UN Security Council over the Palestine issue [Gaza] by siding with Arab parties. It’s something they are likely to indulge again next week if the Palestinians go for a UN vote”. Daniel Levy’s analysis is posted here and here.

Continue reading "Gaza is the Palestinian state" – UPDATED

After cease-fire in Gaza, IDF says it arrests senior Hamas + Islamic Jihad people in the West Bank

After last night’s cease-fire in Gaza, the IDF says it has now arrested — “in cooperation with the ISA [Israel Security Agency], Israel Police and the Israel Border Police” — some 55 people said to be affiliated Hamas + Islamic Jihad, from the north to the south of the West Bank.

According to the IDF announcement, they include “a number of senior level operatives” — but the IDF published no names.

The official IDF explanation is: it will “to restore calm”.  In the past eight days, there has been unrest and protest demonstrations around the West Bank against the IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds against Gaza, and at least 62 protesters against Operation Pillar of Clouds were detained by the IDF during the operation in Gaza.

However, almost none of these protests are organized by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, who take a quite low-key profile in the West Bank. Nor is it Hamas or Islamic Jihad who send young men out to throw stones whenever they see jeeps of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.

Hamas officials have regularly been arrested ever since their electoral victory in 2006 Legislative Council elections. Islamic Jihad activities were “prohibited” in the occupied Palestinian territory by a decree of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 6 October 2010.

Until last night, most of the West Bank unrest has been due to protests led by a combination of the popular committees and the younger anti-Oslo Accords, anti-PA, anti-Abbas protesters who came together last year in support of Egypt’s Tahrir Square revolution. One of their main platforms is the call for a revival of, and world-wide Palestinian elections to, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Palestine National Council [PNC]. .

Hamas is not yet a member of the PLO, despite an agreement in Cairo in 2005 that this would happen.

What prevented Hamas’ joining the PLO was a tough position by Fateh “unity” negotiators against Hamas getting an allocated percentage of seats in the PNC proportional to the more-than-60% seats it won in the local Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 elections. The Fateh negotiators were firm that Hamas did not deserve more than 20-25% of the seats in the PNC, which the Fateh negotiators insisted was the true strength of Hamas.

Those who were arrested this week, until last night, were the younger more secular crowd.

Addameer, a prisoners support group based in Ramallah, Tweeted this: @Addameer_ps – There has been a spike in arrests across the West Bank since the Occupation attacked #Gaza last week.

Continue reading After cease-fire in Gaza, IDF says it arrests senior Hamas + Islamic Jihad people in the West Bank

Cease-fire?

All of a sudden, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr appeared on the TV screen — on all the news channels.

In Arabic, FM Amr announced that “efforts had led to a cease-fire, an end to the violence and bloodshed we have witnessed”.   He said this cease-fire would start at 21:00 in Cairo [20:00 GMT].

He read a statement in Arabic, speaking about the end goal being a comprensive and just resolution.  “We are calling for a fair solution to the Palestinian question”, and he said Egypt will continue in its efforts.  And, he indicated that he hoped the divisions between Palestinian factions would end, and the Palestinians will be united.

Then, Sec of State Clinton said, “To hold, the rocket fire must end and a broader calm return”.  She said that the people in the region deserve to live “free from fear and violence”, and that “in the days ahead, the U.S. will work to improve conditions for the people of Gaza, and provide security for the people of Israel”.

@TimothyS — CNN just reported that US will spend an additional $600 million on Israel’s Iron Dome system as part of the Gaza cease-fire agreement.

UPDATE: An alternative theory: RT.com reported on 23 November, here, relying on a report on the not-always-reliable Debka.com, that “the pause in fighting comes after the US promised to send troops to Sinai. According to Debka, US troops will soon be en route to the Sinai peninsula…Debka reports this week that Sinai will soon be occupied by US troops, who were promised by President Barack Obama to Israel’s leaders as a condition that a ceasefire be called. Once deployed, the Americans will intervene with the rumored arms trade orchestrated by Iranians, ideally cutting off supplies for Hamas while at the same time serving as a thorn in the side of Iran…The decision to send US troops to Sinai in exchange for a ceasefire was reportedly arranged early Wednesday morning after Pres. Obama made a deal over the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…A ceasefire has since been called after a week of fight, but more military action could soon occur, claims Israel, if the flow of weapons to Gaza is not stopped… Debka’s sources suggest that US troops may now have to intervene in Sinai if any smugglers should attempt to move weapons into Gaza. ‘By opening the Sinai door to an American troop deployment for Israel’s defense, recognizes that the US force also insures Israel against Cairo revoking or failing to honor the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979’, adds Debka.  According to their sources, US troops are expected in Egypt early next week”.

The Guardian reported here that “Barack Obama heaped praise on Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire plan and offered increased US funding to beef up Israel’s air defence batteries.  The White House, in an unusual twist, highlighted that Netanyahu had followed Obama’s advice, which was to accept the ceasefire deal…[The White House statement] publicly stressed the fact that Netanyahu had taken Obama’s advice. ‘The president commended the prime minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal – which the president recommended the prime minster do – while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself’, the White House said.”

Continue reading Cease-fire?

Day 8 of Operation Pillar of Clouds – no cease-fire

Those who thought there might really be a cease-fire yesterday have been disappointed. There is no cease-fire.

There is a lot of diplomatic pressure, but it does not seem very effective.

The sudden announcement yesterday that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Clinton arrived in Israel around 21:00, and went in the dark of night to see Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. The two made a brief pre-set formalistic press appearance, and then went into a meeting.

In her public statements, Clinton first spoke of America’s “rock solid and enduring” support for Israel’s security.

A full transcript of her remarks and of PM Netanyahu’s, with a video, is posted on the State Department website here.

Clinton will have a second meeting with Netanyahu [together with his inner cabinet?] this morning, according to information just Tweeted by Haaretz journalist Barak Ravid, after a brief “consultation” with Palestinian President Abbas in the Ramallah Muqata’a.  [Proving that an escorted convoy can make it between Ramallah + Jerusalem quickly — but still not in 15 minutes, as Netanyahu recently claimed.]

@BarakRavid: SecState Clinton will meet at 11:00 am for 2nd time w Israeli PM Netanyahu, FM Lieberman & MoD Barak b4 leaving to Egypt

The Obama Administration’s first huge crisis — even before actually taking office — was the last huge Israeli military operation against Gaza, Operation Cast Lead [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009], which ended at the insistence of Obama’s people literally hours before his inauguration ceremony. A day after being sworn in, Barack Obama’s first international phone call as President was to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He appointed Senator George Mitchell as envoy, and gave the impression that he would deal with this problem strongly and seriously. Israeli settlements were identified as the major obstacle to a political solution, and Mitchell had written an earlier report that pointed to the settlement problem. But Israel under Netanyahu, whose party won national elections in February 2009, dug in its heels. Every trick in the book was pulled out, and settlements were expanded and entrenched. The U.S. caved in and gave up. Mitchell eventually was removed as Special Envoy.

As Palestinian negotiators have said, Israeli negotiators only wanted to talk about security. So, the Obama administration changed its tactics and adopted a new strategy: from early 2010, the focus has been on reassuring Israel. The idea seemed to be that if Israel’s security needs were given “rock solid” guarantees, then Israel would be relaxed and reassured enough to negotiate more…seriously.

In the Spring of 2010, the Obama team reinforced what has been American policy for decades, but announced it in a big way: unqualified support for a “Qualitative Military Edge” [QME] for Israel, which we have written about previously on this blog.

Obama announced an increase in military spending for Israel — $30 billion dollars over the next ten years. On top of that, the U.S. gave additional money to allow Israel to develop the Iron Dome missile defense program. Just this week, Israel deployed a fifth and upgraded Iron Dome battery to protect Tel Aviv, which had never been attacked by fire from Gaza before — and was previously out of range, and Israeli officials have indicated they need a total of 13 portable Iron Dome units [at a reported cost of some $50 million dollars each] to feel sure about protecting their country.

The Iron Dome battery is not effective in short distance ranges, for the Israeli communities in the Gaza perimeter, nor for long distances, but it is portable.

So far, Israel has reportedly fired nearly 400 Iron Dome missile interceptors [which reportedly cost some $40,000 each].

The Iron Dome system has been effective in the current Operation Pillar of Clouds — but even a few failures are costly and frightening. Yesterday afternoon, a 6-floor apartment building in Rishon letZion, not far from Tel Aviv, was badly damaged by a direct hit. At least one person was injured, but no deaths. Also yesterday, a second round of long-range [M-75s, Hamas calls them] missiles was fired towards Jerusalem, where there is no Iron Dome protection. It is unclear what the intended target, but in any case it fell near the Palestinian town of Beit Ummar in the southern West Bank, landing in an open area.

That is the policy the U.S. is still backing and pursuing. In the current Israeli military operation, President Obama and every other official in the Administration who has spoken out has backed Israel’s right to defend itself. The U.S. reportedly announced a few days ago that it was sending another $300 million dollars for Iron Dome defense.

So it is in this context, as Reuters reported, Clinton spoke yesterday upon arrival — and both Netanyahu and Clinton referred to the Iron Dome system.

Reuters reported overnight that Clinton “repeated international calls for the kind of lasting, negotiated, comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian settlement that has eluded the two peoples for decades – something neither of the two warring parties seems seriously to be anticipating. ‘In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region’, Clinton said. ‘It is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza. The rocket attacks from terrorist organisations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored. The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike’.”   This report is posted
http://en-maktoob.news.yahoo.com/wrapup-1-gaza-shakes-israelis-killed-clinton-seeks-000924434.html

Netanyahu, who earlier lectured UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon [who had urged “restraint”] on the his view of the security situation, apparently said less with Clinton: “If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that. But if not, I’m sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people”.

But, the rigid — “rock-solid” — U.S. support for Israel’s security and for its defense against missile threat is juxtaposed against Israel’s targetted killings, which it used to start Operation Pillar of Cloud, and which it continued yesterday. Israel has justified killing journalists working for Al-Aqsa TV and for targetting media offices where Hamas officials were being interviewed.

This strategy runs counter to most interpretations of international humanitarian law. But Israel — and the U.S., in its post 9/11 policies and “war on terrorism” by any name — have put themselves outside of this consensus. They appear unmoved by the reaction. Whatever outcry there is against this is limited and reported in only part of the media.

Those European countries who have not covertly participated in these operations have chosen to look away. European leaders this week have used the same expressions as Obama officials, speaking only in support of Israel’s right to defend itself.

In this context, Clinton is at this hour about to descend with her entourage on the Muqata’a Presidential compound in Ramallah, to meet with the beleagured and sidelined Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas — more to pressure him against pursuing his planned “UN move” in the General Assembly to seek an upgrade in the status of Palestine to [observer non-member] State [because, what does Abbas have to do with a cease-fire???]
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/A8NUxT4CMAEpqBu.jpg:large - Photo by  Tweeted by @WessamH [Wessam Hammad]

Photo of Clinton arriving at Ramallah Muqata’a + being greeted by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat

PhotoTweeted by @WissamH [Wessam Hammad]

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon, who is more sympathetic to the “UNGA move”, will visit Abbas a couple of hours later.

Then, the diplomatic scene will move to Cairo, where Egypt is charged with finding an end to Hamas rocket and missile firing…

Day 7 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds [a/k/a Defense Pillar]

Day 7 opened with reports from international journalists in Gaza saying it had been an unusually quiet night — but the IDF reporting some 180 overnight strikes.  The rocket fire from Gaza resumed just before the start of the business day.

UNSG Ban Ki Moon was in Egypt, and had already made a press statement from Cairo saying it would be a bad idea for Israeli to move to a ground operation inside Gaza, before a delegation of Arab Foreign Ministers headed by Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Araby headed to Rafah to go to Gaza on another solidarity visit.

European Foreign Ministers and Quartet Envoy were doing the rounds in the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem-Ramallah circuit.

A surprise announcement this morning said that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was diverted to head to the region from Thailand today, and should arrive in Israel by the afternoon or evening to strengthen efforts to conclude a cease-fire.

Then, by  mid-day the  cease-fire [vs escalation by ground invasion] roller-coaster ride picked up weight + speed.  Via Twitter:

@CNNInternatDesk – BREAKING NEWS: Israel Security Cabinet decided to put temporary hold on possible ground offensive into Gaza

RAGreeneCNN ?@RAGreeneCNN – Israel to HOLD OFF on ground offensive “for a limited time for a diplomatic solution,” Israel govt official tells CNN’s @camanpour

Earlier, veteran French TV [2] correspondent Charles Enderlin ?@Charles1045 – Avant de faire des concessions majeures au Hamas en échange d’un cessez le feu Bibi veut la preuve que le Hamas contrôle Gaza  [My translation:  Before making major concessions to Hamas in exchange for a cease-fire, Bibi wants proof that Hamas controls Gaza { !!! }]

Enderlin’s next Tweet said: je n’arrive pas a croire que Benjamin Netanyahu va conclure un accord avec des terroristes 🙂
[My translation: I Ican’t believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is going to make an agreement with terrorists : )…]

Then just after 13:hh, a Tweet from the BBC’s Lyse Doucet [@bbclysedoucet] – Mohammed Deif Head of Hamas Military wing will give “important announcement” on #Hamas TV shortly #Gaza #Israelah

But, the BBC’s Paul Danahar then Tweeted: @pdanahar – Head of the Hamas military wing Mohamed Deif in #Gaza says nothing about ceasefire he just encouraging people to keep fighting

@pdanahar – Head of the Hamas military wing Mohamed Deif in #Gaza says their fighters should be ready for a ground war with #Israel

And then from @bbclysedoucet – Deif Head #Hamas Military wing says #Israel ground invasion best way to get Pal prisoners released – by capturing Israel soldiers

Just after 14:00 air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem. There is no Iron-Dome battery in Jerusalem. An explosion was heard. The missiles [reportedly, two] apparently hit an area of open ground. The AlQassam Brigades said they were M-75 missiles with a 75-km range. It was later reported [via Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency] that the missiles hit in a Palestinian area near Surif, Beit Ummar, in the southern West Bank.

Not long afterwards, the IDF reported they made a direct hit on a motorcycle, killing the riders who the IDF identified as the crew which fired the missiles towards Jerusalem.

After that, leaflets were dropped in certain areas of Gaza, instructing residents to leave their homes and move towards the center of Gaza City.  That should make it very crowded…

This could be an indication of an imminent ground invasion. Or, it could be a Psy-Ops operation intended to push truce negotiations forward.Leaflets dropped by the IDF in Gaza Tuesday afternoon instructing residents to move towards specified areas in the center

A translation, posted here, offered by Yousef Munayyer of the Palestine Center says:

Military Communique  

To the residents of Sheikh Ajleen, Tal Al-hawa, Al-Rimal janoob, Al Zaytoon neighborhood, Shija’eya, Al Turkman, and New Shija’eya,

The IDF is not targeting any of you and does not want to harm you or your family. For your safety, we demand you to evacuate your homes immediately and move toward the center of the city via one of the following paths: Al Qahira, Jami’at Al Dool Al Rabya, Al-Aqsa, Alqadsyah, Om El Laymon, Salah Eldeen, Almansoorah, Khalas and Baghdad. The designated area in the city of Gaza is limited to west of Salah-a-deen Road, north of Omar Al Mokhtar Road, east of AlNassir Road and south of al-Quds road. This is a temporary confrontation and in the end every person will return to his home . Obeying these IDF instructions will keep civilian residents like you from harm’s way

The leadership of the Israeli Defense Force

An alternate translation can be found here.

Yousef Munayyer notes that the area delineated is “the most densely populated area of the Gaza Strip in and around Gaza city. This is one of the most densely populated places on earth. According to UN OCHA, the population density in this area is close to 7,000 persons/SqKm. Hundreds of thousands of people are being told to immediately leave their houses”…

His post offers a larger map, published here, showing exactly the area defined. He explains: “The red area represents the neighborhoods which must evacuate immediately into the area in the blue square”.

People in the center of Gaza are advised to go be squeezed together inside an even tighter and smaller area — for how long?

Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of terrified people, crowded overnight into a central area — without shelter, sanitation, food and water?

The Arab League delegation of Foreign Ministers did go in and out of Gaza today, rolling in impressive SUVs on some surprisingly clear streets with security guards standing in the doors of the cars as the convoy whizzed passed.  Ismail Haniyeh gave the group a brief lecture, then they went to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu showed some emotion.

AlQassam Brigades said the Turkish FM was “sharing the #Palestinian people pain and sorrow”, and Tweeted a photo of one of the moments: @AlqassamBrigade – pic.twitter.com/JHMh4PEI

Turkish FM Ahmet Davuto?lu at Gaza City's main Shifa Hospital - 20 Nov 2012

Then, two journalists working for Al-Aqsa TV [Mahmoud Al-Komi and Husam Salama ] were killed in a targetted strike moments after the Arab League delegation’s convoy left, burning to death in their struck car, which was clearly marked “PRESS”.  A third journalist was targetted a short while later, elsewhere in Gaza.   Ma’an News Agency later reported here that Palestinian press freedom group Mada “condemned the strike as a ‘heinous crime … (and) a flagrant breach of the international conventions that protect journalists’.”, and demanded an international investigation.

Six men accused of being “collaborators” — identifying targets for Israeli strikes — were pulled out of a van that pulled up on a downtown street and shot in front of surprised onlookers.  Despite the ongoing air attacks, the crowd grew when the executioners said that the men were collaborators.  One report later said Hamas was investigating.  Reuters reported that “Hamas executed six Palestinians accused of spying for Israel, who a security source quoted by Hamas Aqsa radio said had been ‘caught red-handed’ with ‘filming equipment to take footage of positions’.  The radio said they had been shot. Militants on a motorcycle dragged the body of one of the men through the streets”. This report is published here

The Gaza Mall, which also houses the offices of AFP, was targeted later.

The only explanation is this Tweet put out by the IDF: @IDFSpokesperson – Targeted in #Gaza over evening: bank used to finance Hamas operatives, command & control center, Hamas hideout & operatives’ meeting place

According to a later report on Reuters, here, “Israel’s military said it had been targeting a Hamas intelligence centre in the tower”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] issued a statement saying that Israel “must immediately halt airstrikes targeting news offices”, apparently referring to the strikes over the past several days.  The CPJ statement is published here.

CPJ later issued a second statement, which focused a bit more on the targetted killing of the three Palestinian journalists working for Al-Aqsa TV + Radio.

“We’re alarmed by the mounting toll on journalists in Gaza,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Israeli airstrikes continue to put journalists in harm’s way. This reflects the risks journalists face while reporting on conflict, especially in such a densely populated area.” A third journalist was killed when his car was hit by a missile this evening, The Associated Press reported citing a Gaza official. Initial local news reports identified the journalist as Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio. The reports said his vehicle was hit while he was driving in the Deir al-Balah neighborhood, but did not say whether Abu Aisha was reporting at the time. CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances of his death. This is posted here

This morning, it was reported that 111 Palestinians had been killed since the start of Pillars of Clouds.  By 16:30, the death toll in Gaza had increased to 121… and counting. Just after 22:00, Arwa Damon of CNN posted this Tweet:

@arwaCNN – #gaza casualty toll in last 7 days – 130 dead, more than 1020 injured

The Haaretz Live Blog reported here at 10:40 P.M. “IDF: Since beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, 1,500 targets were hit in the Gaza Strip, 133 on Tuesday. Iron Dome intercepted 389 rockets since operations’ onset, including 51 on Tuesday”…

Day 6 of Operation Pillar of Clouds

Day 6 was a re-run of Day 5, with a few differences …

On Day 6 of this latest escalation,  Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a set of “Legal Points”.
The time had come. They realized — even if most of the media covering this story didn’t — that the situation had come to that. The bombing of a whole house with 12 people inside to get one man [who, as it turns out, wasn’t even there] should have caused a critical reaction. It was a crisis.

As Haaretz wrote on its Live Blog at 10:30 pm yesterday evening, “Apparently, the IAF mistakenly bombed the home of one of his neighbors…killing 10”.

Nevertheless, the IDF Spokespeople sent out a Tweet saying: @IDFSpokesperson = “Since the start of Operation #PillarofDefense, the IDF has targeted 1350 terror sites throughout the Gaza Strip”

They are all “terror sites”?  Really?

Erin Cunninham, Global Post correspondent covering the story from Gaza, reported here that it was “the deadliest day of the conflict according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry”. She added that “Gazans, who are essentially trapped by a blockade, say they feel nowhere is safe, not even their own homes”.

Israelis living in Ashkelon, Beersheva and around the Gaza perimeter also don’t feel safe in their homes…but with some important differences, as others have pointed out, they have shelters, they can leave for safer ground, and they have a whole range of support services to help them.

Palestinian projectile firing from Gaza has not ceased, either [though it does seem to let up during the night, in the dark].

Operation Pillar of Clouds began last Wednesday 14 November with Israel’s targeted killing of Hamas military chief Ahmad Jaabari — who had been instrumental in negotiations on the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit who was seized at Kerem Shalom in 2006 and held captive somewhere in Gaza during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead [27 December 2009 to 18 January 2009].

Jaabari had been working with Israeli peacenik Gershon Baskin who’s been intent on producing agreement on a long-term truce [originally a Hamas idea].

Daniel Levy wrote a post, titled “Living by the Sword”, which is published on The Daily Beast website saying that the current Israeli military operation had not yet become Operation Cast Lead II, but threatened to do so. And, Levy added, “a cessation of hostilities will likely be made more difficult by the absence of al-Jabari himself (previously a key player in bringing other Gazan factions into line) and by the competing agendas of those Gazan factions (Iran for instance may encourage its Islamic Jihad ally to keep this going). And again there is the luck factor and the longer this goes on the more likely another missile is to hit rather than miss”. This is posted here.

The publication of the Israeli MFA “Legal Points” comes the day after another targetted assassination somehow went wrong — the intended target is apparently still alive, while 3 generations of a family died together in an Israeli air strike to kill someone else.

Reuters reported that “Around the time of the [Day 5] attack, the military said it had hit the commander of Hamas’s rocket-launching operations. They named him as Yihia Abayah. Soon after, reports began coming in that a family was killed in the strike. Several hours later, the Israeli army’s chief spokesman, Yoav Mordechai, said on television the military tried to attack Abayah. ‘Although I don’t know the outcome, there were civilians harmed by this’.” This was published on the Maan News Agency here.

The BBC’s Paul Danahar [@pdanahar] Tweeted initially yesterday:

@pdanahar – Jamal Dalou was Hamas man targeted. Now reports he may have been killed in strike. 9 of his family r dead say #Hamas pic.twitter.com/TqXLifqq

Then, a correction:
@pdanahar – “#Hamas man who was killed in the air strike was called Mohamed Dalou. On TV in #Gaza images of 5 dead children from his family in morgue

Those two Tweets were based on information from the IDF.

Today, Paul Dahanar sent this series of three Tweets of correction:
@pdanahar – The IDF have told me they intended to hit the Dalou house in #Gaza because they believed Hamas’s Yahia Rabiya was hiding there however..1/2

@pdanahar – IDF doesn’t know whether he was actually in the house when they bombed it in #Gaza. 10 civilians including 4 children were though 2/2

@pdanahar – Reasons for bombing of Dalou home in #Gaza has changed few times last 12 hours. Only thing we do know is 10 people died, 4 of them children

Those who were killed — 10 members of 3 generations of the al-Dalou family, including four small children, plus two of their neighbors — were buried today in Gaza City. Two more bodies still hadn’t being dug out.

The New York Times correspondent Judy Rudoren Tweeted:  @rudoren – The Dalu funeral was intense.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/world/middleeast/gazans-mourn-dalu-family-killed-by-israeli-bomb.html?hp …

Erin Cunningham’s Global Post article, “Trapped in Gaza”, reported that “not even a funeral was safe in this cramped, pummeled enclave, where shops are shuttered and roads are deserted for fear of attacks.   As hundreds of men carried on their shoulders the bodies of two Al-Dalu children, their limp, bruised frames jerking with each step, an Israeli airstrike nearby clapped like a roll of thunder against the hilltop cemetery, sending a gray pillar of smoke high into the sky. [Not much] Later, two rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel left arcs of white smoke and cries of ‘Allahu akhbar’ [‘God is great’]” in their wake.

@Marianhouk – Haaretz posted a Tweet advertising an update on its Live Blog.  The army, which originally said the Hamas rocket chief was hit in the air strike, is investigating” http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/live-blog-day-6-of-israel-s-gaza-offensive-1.478922 …

@Marianhouk – In another story in Haaretz: IDF “technical error while targeting a senior Hamas militant in charge of rocket firing teams” – http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/idf-gaza-civilians-killed-due-to-faulty-air-strike.premium-1.478887 

@Marianhouk – NYTimes @rudoren 3 generations of Dalu family killed; BrigGen Mordechai: “I don’t know what happened” to wanted target. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-conflict.html?smid=tw-nytimesglobal&seid=auto&_r=0 …

@Marianhouk – IDF chief spox Brig-Gen Mordechai to NYTimes on mistaken bombing: “I do know that we are committed to the safety of the citizens of Israel”

The IDF investigation is still continuing…and only selected journalists [of major importance, of course] get any inkling of what’s happening.

The Israeli MFA Legal Points state Israel’s justification for the Operation: “Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have been waging an ongoing armed conflict against Israel, which has included incessant barrages of rockets and mortars towards the Israeli civilian population and other terror activities. Israel has the right under international law, and a moral obligation, to act in self-defense, to defend its population and to protect its territory when under attack, as well as to take military action against the terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip”.

The Legal Points also say that “IDF attacks in the Gaza Strip are solely targeted against military targets and terrorist operatives. Civilian objects such as residential buildings may constitute legitimate targets if used by terrorist operatives for military purposes”.

And, the Legal Points say: “Israel and the IDF are fully committed to international law in general, and to the Laws of Armed Conflict in particular. Israeli commanders and soldiers are guided by international law in their actions. The IDF strives to imbue the principles of international law in IDF training, the IDF Code of Ethics and rules of engagement”.

Then, not long after the funeral of the al-Dalu family members, the IDF again targetted an office tower that it struck yesterday, housing media organizations [many of whom had apparently evacuated after vague IDF warnings that they should].  Between 1 – 4 people were killed in the strike.

@JonDonnison – LISTEN: sound of Israeli missile whistling past where I was standing when Sharouk building hit in #Gaza. One killed. http://soundcloud.com/jondonnison/sharouk-building-hit …

@RaynerSkyNews – Al Aqsa TV in Gaza reporting that 3rd floor targeted housed Al Ahly computer centre – no further info on the nature of the business

Tim Marshall ?@Skytwitius – Gaza. Al-Shourouk media centre hit again. This was where Sky News WAS operating from. 3rd floor took explosion.

@RAGreeneCNN – Israel strike on Gaza building housing media organizations kills at least 1, wounds 3 – CNN camerawoman there sees badly burned body

Then, the  IDF Spokespeople went into action to explain and try to justify the attack, no doubt benefitting from the Legal Points of the Israeli MFA [and their own legal department as well]:

IDF ?@IDFSpokesperson – A short while ago, the IDF targeted a cadre of senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives who were hiding in a media building in #Gaza.

@IDFSpokesperson – A direct hit was identified on the target. Four senior members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad were known to have been in the media building.

@IDFSpokesperson – 1. Baha Abu al-Ata, commndr. of PIJ #Gaza City Brigade, involved in planning attacks against #Israel, arms manufacturing, long-range rockets

@IDFSpokesperson – 2. Tissir Mahmoud Mahmed Jabari, senior PIJ operative, responsible for training within org & approving terrorist attacks against #Israel

?@IDFSpokesperson – 3. Halil Batini, PIJ senior operative, a key figure in org’s long-range rocket launching operations, responsible for internal security

@IDFSpokesperson – 4. Ramaz Harab, responsible for propaganda in PIJ #Gaza City Brigade, aide to Tissir Jabari, former head of Sheikh Rajuan Division

@IDFSpokesperson – The senior PIJ cadre was operating in a media building. They were’t there to be interviewed. They were using reporters as human shields.

@IDFSpokesperson – We targeted only the 2nd floor, which is where the senior terrorists were. The rest of the building was unharmed. Direct hit confirmed.

 

Meanwhile, in New York, the UN Security Council has been discussing the situation in Gaza. Russia has circulated a draft resolution that “demands an immediate, durable and fully respected cessation of violence, leading to the restoration of calm”.

But, as Daniel Levy wrote on The Daily Beast blog today, “it takes two to de-escalate and if Netanyahu, as senior Israeli officials have suggested, insists on bringing Hamas to its knees to beg for a ceasefire, then all bets are off. This means that any ceasefire also requires pressure on Israel — a commodity which tends to be in preciously short supply”.

 

Day 5 of Operation Pillar of Clouds — UPDATE: Haaretz reports confirmation that neighbors were killed in the bombing, not the Hamas rocket chief

Ten members of the Dalu [Dallo/Dalou] family [including 4 children] were killed today, along with two of their neighbors, by an Israeli airstrike this afternoon in Gaza.

Now, Haaretz has reported at 10:30 tonight that they were not the intended targets.

From the Haaretz Live Blog of the current military operation in Gaza:
LIVE BLOG
10:30 P.M. Earlier reports by the IDF Spokesman to the effect that Israel assassinated the head of Hamas’ rocket-launching unit Yehiya Rabiah today in an aerial bombing in northern Gaza appear to have been inaccurate. Apparently, the IAF mistakenly bombed the home of one of his neighbors, Mohammed a-Dallo, killing 10 members of his family and two of his neighbors. Rabiah seems to have survived the attack. This is posted here.

This is a stunning revelation, delivered in an unusually low-key way.

This was portrayed, earlier, as the second “targetted killing” of the current IDF military operation.

But, the intended target is still alive, and these innocent people are dead.

The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood wrote: “The air strike flattened the home of the Dalou family in the Sheikh Radwan district of Gaza City, causing the biggest death toll in a single incident since the offensive began last Wednesday.The strike was believed to be aimed at a Hamas official, Mohamed Dalou … A spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces said the military could not confirm the target but said ‘senior operatives affiliated with rocket fire, were being pinpointed”. This is posted here.

But, the IDF has issued no statement of clarification or explanation or correction.

Haaretz journalist Avi Issacharoff — who was clearly aware of the magnitude of this error — posted a piece, here, just nine minutes after the Haaretz Live Blog update.
In his piece, Issacharoff wrote: “Among those killed in the house were five women, four children and three men. Al Jazeera television repeatedly broadcast the pictures of the bodies of the four children, who were 2 to 5 years old, lying next to each other in the hospital in Gaza on Sunday. The live broadcasts from the house focused on documenting the attempts to rescue survivors from the ruins, but the cameras recorded only the discovery of another body there. Those pictures were broadcast all over the Arab world, on the eve of the arrival of an Arab League foreign ministers’ delegation, which was supposed to bring with it a cease-fire agreement… Even before the al Dalou family, reports about casualties among children, women and the elderly have been increasing over the past two days, while harm caused to militants from Hamas or other organizations has been relatively limited … One possible explanation for the growing number of strikes against the civilian population is the decline in the number of quality targets available to Israeli intelligence and the Israel Air Force. In the afternoon, there was a report of the assassination of the head of the Hamas rocket program, Yahye Rabiya – of whom nobody in the Gaza Strip had ever heard and whose name for some reason was not even mentioned on the lists of those killed in Gaza. But the attacks on empty facilities belonging to Hamas — or what used to be called ‘bombing real estate’ — can also attest to a certain frustration in the Israel Defense Forces in light of the continued firing of rockets even more intensively, despite the innumerable aerial strikes and bombings in Gaza. Another problem with which Israel has to contend is the fact that it is doubtful whether the large number of casualties among Gaza’s civilian population actually leads Hamas leaders to reconsider the firing of rockets…”

Click below to see some photos, which are quite … graphic.

Continue reading Day 5 of Operation Pillar of Clouds — UPDATE: Haaretz reports confirmation that neighbors were killed in the bombing, not the Hamas rocket chief

Day 5 of Operation Pillar of Clouds – Pillars and Pillars and Pillars [of smoke]

Israel, apparently still unsatisfied with the details of a cease-fire agreement being negotiated from Cairo, conducted 70 strikes overnight — from the air as well as from the sea — but said there was quiet, until rocket fire from Gaza resumed this morning.

UPDATE: Haaretz reported on its live blog here that “More than 70 rockets have been fired at Israel since Saturday, and the IDF has attacked a similar number of targets in the Gaza Strip”. So, during this phase of cease-fire negotiations, Israel appears to have deferentially downgraded from massive attacks to eye-for-an-eye striking…

One person from Gaza reported that the Israeli strike had created pillars of smoke [rather than pillars of clouds].

Pillars of Clouds is a closer translation, apparently, of the Hebrew name for this IDF military operation against Hamas in Gaza — but the IDF and Israeli Government has chosen to call it “Defensive Pillar” in English, instead.

Some of the Israeli targets — and yes, the IDF spokesperson reported this morning that they were targets precisely chosen after months of intelligence work — were two media offices in downtown Gaza City.

Among the other casualties of the Israeli attacks, according to Reuters’ Noah Browning, were three small children killed since midnight. The casualty figures are rising continuously.

The IDF also reported that last night it took out more missile storage and/or launching sites [which the Army previously said had been largely wiped out on Day 1 of this operation, last Wednesday].

But, yesterday afternoon, the Global Post’s Jerusalem Correspondent Noga Tarnopolsky Tweeted [@NTarnopolsky] :  #Homeland Security minister Avi #Dichter foresees “hundreds more #missiles” in coming days #Israel #Gaza @GlobalPost

And, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu said at his regular weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that some 1,000 rockets +  missiles had been fired from Gaza to Israel in the past four days.

The first of the two media offices attacked was in “Shawwa and Hussary tower” at about 4 am this morning, reportedly injuring about 8 Palestinian journalists, in the offices of Hamas-funded Al-Quds TV, which was one of two television channels which aired last night the bravado statement put out just before midnight by AlQassam Brigade/Islamic Jihad .  The statement was accompanied by a video, apparently now available on Youtube, showing an underground hatch opening to allow rocket launchers to move up briefly, and fire.

The IDF says these airstrikes targetted “Hamas’ operational communications”.

Smoke coming from Al-Quds TV in Gaza after IDF attack on 18 Nov 2012
Photo of a pillar of smoke coming from Al-Quds TV offices in Gaza city after IDF strike this morning

The photo above was announced on Twitter and posted on Facebook, here.

The IDF later sent an SMS calling this a “surgical strike”.

An Al-Quds TV cameraman Khader az-Zahar has reportedly had to have his leg amputated as a result of the attack this morning.

[A Reuters photojournalist from Gaza suffered injuries that resulted in the amputation of his entire leg after a previous Israeli attack several years ago in Gaza {was it one using “flechette” bombs that sent out hundreds of razor-sharp arrows?}].

Deliberately targetting civilians is considered a war crime.

Bombing of media operations has, as BBC correspondents and editors Tweeted this morning, been specifically denounced by UN resolutions.  The BBC World Service’s Middle East Editor Jon Williams sent this Tweet to that effect this morning :

[@WilliamsJon] “International law protects journalists involved in conflict. #UNSC 1738 sets important standard #Gaza #pressfreedom http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sc8929.doc.htm …

[[This resolution states, in part: “without prejudice to the war correspondents’ right to the status of prisoners of war under the Third Geneva Convention, that journalists, media professionals and associated personnel engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians, to be respected and protected as such“.]]

Reprisal bombing — using the argument that media funded by a protagonist in a conflict is a legitimate target [because it broadcasts information helpful to the enemy or part of the hostilities, or whatever] — didn’t go well when it happened in Belgrade during the Balkans war in the mid 1990s. The US operating on behalf of NATO there at the time had to struggle to prevent judicial examination for war crimes.

Gaza TV building hung with poster of Fadel Shani killed by an Israeli-fired flechette bomb in 2008 - photo Tweeted by by Noah Browning of Reuters

Photo taken by Noah Browning of Reuters, showing Gaza TV building today, where TV transmission facilities are located and available for hire.  The building is hung with a poster of Reuters’ Fadel Shani, killed by an Israeli-fired flechette bomb while reporting in Gaza in 2008.

Continue reading Day 5 of Operation Pillar of Clouds – Pillars and Pillars and Pillars [of smoke]