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 …

[[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.

Question: Are Twitter wars “real”? Not if the weapons aren’t lethal, and not if the Tweeters are out of uniform…  But, the question I’m really raising here is about  IDF information tactics, and in particular its social media strategy.  Admittedly, this is a new field of activity, but it would be preferable for representatives of a serious and democratic country to have its army refrain from taunting its enemies or behaving as if they’re in a locker room chortling over their victories.  An example of this is shown on the Mother Jones website here.   An overview discussing some of the issues was posted by the Electronic Freedom Foundation, here.

And, Max Fisher noted, in his blog for The Washington Post’s foreign desk, [[, that “The @IDFSpokesperson Twitter account, encouraging followers to show support for the strikes, tweeted Wednesday: ‘More than 12,000 rockets hit Israel in the past 12 years. RT if you think #Israel has the right to defend itself’.’ More than 5,500 people have retweeted it. On Facebook, a flier-style image with a similar message has been shared 18,000 times”.   The title of his post is: “Why is Israel Tweeting Airstrikes?”

Concerning the IDF, what journalists want and need is actual factual information that can be relied upon, from a professional army…

The IDF warnings are particularly creepy, and come across more as threats — especially for Gazans who cannot leave the Gaza Strip, and have no safe place to go to when Israeli attacks are launched.

Journalist Borzou Daraghi of FT [formerly Beirut bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times] Tweeted this today: [@borzou ]  “Reporter for @RFI was asked by Israeli army to evacuate the building where he files reports from in #Gaza city (via Facebook)


Meanwhile, here are are some of the IDF Tweets on the bombing of the two media offices earlier today:

@IDFSpokesperson – The sites that we targeted overnight were all positively identified by precise intelligence over the course of months.

@IDFSpokesperson – Site 1: Hamas comms center, which was in civilian building. IDF only targeted devices on roof & left Hamas offices on 8th floor untouched

@IDFSpokesperson – Site 2: Hamas comms equipment on building where several international news orgs are located. Roof antenna hit – rest of building untargeted.

Earlier, IDF spokesperson Avital Leibovch said in an interview with the BBC that “We obviously know that there are journalists in the buliding so we did not attack any other floors in the building”.

However, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR] sent out a statement later explaining how missiles that may have been shot at the roof nevertheless affected the lower floor:  “The missiles penetrated the roof of the building and exploded inside the office.  As a result, 7 journalists and trainees who were in the office were wounded.  The wounds of two were described as serious; Khader al-Zahhar, 20, lost his leg in the attack and sustained shrapnel wounds throughout his body, and Mohammed al-Akhras, 20, also sustained extensive shrapnel wounds”.

Avital Leibovich also, in her interview with the BBC, gave this advice “to journalists visiting in Gaza to “stay away from any Hamas positions, or Hamas sites, or Hamas posts, for their own safety”.  The audio of her remarks can be listend to here.

Separately, she Tweeted [@AvitalLeibovich ] – “By placing communication infrastructure on roofs of civilian media buildings, #Hamas uses the foreign journalists as #HumanShields #Gaza

Later, the IDF spokesperson’s Twitter account sent this out  –  [ @IDFSpokesperson ] Advice to reporters in #Gaza, just like any person in Gaza: For your own safety, stay away from #Hamas positions and operatives.

All this is particularly ironic because, as the Times of Israel has reported today: “The Israeli military widened its range of targets in the Gaza Strip on Sunday to include the media operations of the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers, sending its aircraft to attack two buildings used by both Hamas and foreign media outlets.  The Israeli military also appeared to take over the frequencies of the radio stations of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group to broadcast a recorded, Arabic-language warning to the people of Gaza to stay away from Hamas installations and personnel.  ‘To the people of Gaza, Hamas is playing with fire and gambling with your fate’, said the message, which was broadcast every five minutes. ‘The Israel Defense Force is moving toward the second phase of its operation. For your safety, you should stay away from Hamas infrastructure and personnel. The message did not say what the ‘second phase’ was, but thousands of Israeli troops are massed near the Gaza border, awaiting an order to invade should Israeli leaders decide on that course. Israeli Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon told Army Radio on Sunday that Israel has to be prepared to widen the operation if militants don’t back down. The military spokesman’s office said it could not immediately confirm it was broadcasting this message, but said it has issued similar warnings over the radio several days ago”.  This is reported here.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR] has offered journalists working space from their offices in Gaza, information Tweeted by Ramallah-based Al Haq human rights organization, among others:

Al Haq [ @alhaq_org ] – Following Israeli attacks on press, @pchrgaza has invited journalists to work out of their offices in Gaza Strip should they wish to.

PCHR, meanwhile, said in its statement that it “strongly condemns the wounding of 10 journalists and media professionals while they were carrying out their jobs, when Israeli Occupation Forces attacked the offices of al-Quds Television and al-Aqsa Television this morning.  PCHR stresses that journalists and media professionals, like civilian persons, enjoy special protection in time of war under international humanitarian law; targeting them constitutes a systematic crime to silence the press and prevent journalists from reporting on the crimes that are being committed by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip”.

Earlier, before the AlQassam Brigades statement and video aired last night, the AlQassam Brigades sent out this surprising Tweet:

[@AlqassamBrigade] –  “Al Qassam’s operation #ShaleStones is going well in achieving historic goals, Liberation of occupied #Palestine started…we are coming #IDF”.

Historic goals? Liberation of occupied Palestine? We are coming IDF? This is not more of the same — the previous excuse [granted, given by political rather than military leaders] had previously been: “it is a natural response of self-defense”…

How can these fighters be so positive?

Anonymous [“Expect us. We are coming”], or some Anonymous operations, have been sending out Tweets about an #OpIsrael that apparently began in parallel with the IDF’s Operation Pillars of Clouds. The first target seemed to be to keep Gaza connected to the internet, despite outages. It expanded to attacks on various Israeli websites.

The IDF has been sending out its own Tweets which helped set the tone for this round of confrontation — some of which descended into locker-room triumphalism, particularly the “wanted” graphic [with a banner marked “eliminated”] for Hamas military leader whose assassination on Wednesday launched the beginning of Operation Pillar of Clouds.

The AlQassam Brigade had Tweeted, even earlier — after firing something like Fajr 5 rockets towards Tel Aviv [one of which was reportedly intercepted by the fifth Iron Dome battery, deployed hours ahead of announced schedule but just in time; another missile reportedly in an “open area” — [@AlqassamBrigade] “Eyewitnesses: clouds of somke [sic — it clearly should read “smoke“] cover the southern areas of Tel Aviv now. #Gaza #GazaUnderAttack #ShaleStones”

The AlQassam Brigade press statement with surprises, aired at about 11:40 pm Jerusalem time [which I was unable to see, myself] apparently featured Abu Obeida saying, according to the AlQassam Brigade Tweet @AlqassamBrigade “We shot a warplane over Gaza sea, the thing Israel is hiding #GazaUnderAttack #Gaza #Hamas #ShaleStones #Israel #IDF”.

This claim apparently referred to an F-16 that was reported shot down two days ago, with possible capture of its pilot/crew. Israel has denied the capture of Israeli soldiers, but it has not been as clear about the plane.  AlQassam Brigade has said that Israeli authorities are withholding this and other  information from their own people.

In the same aired press conference last night, Abu Obeida said that the AlQassam Brigades had a list of Israeli targets they were working on, and that there were more “surprises” to come. He said that the resistance’s capabilities had not been destroyed, as Israeli officials claimed, and he warned against an Israeli ground invasion.

The second media office was hit this by an IDF strike just before 8 am, and housed the operations of Sky News, ITN and other European TV organizations.   This is especially ironic after the Israeli Foreign Ministry yesterday publicized a report that had earlier been published as a DPA report datelined Cairo, saying that 22 “foreign” journalists were being prevented from leaving Gaza by Hamas, who was also harassing them.

The eerie situation created by attacks and counter-attacks and monitoring via social media is a new characteristic in this war [for that’s what it is]. This Tweet by Neri Zilber [@NeriZilber] noted yesterday evening that “Ch.2 coverage (interviews/updates) being shown & translated live on Hamas TV. Tzipi Livni just delivered msg to #Gaza ppl. #Israel #surreal”.

The AlQassam Brigades themselves retweeted this Tweet by Mondoweiss: [@Mondoweiss] “Israeli reasoning: IDF military operation in #Gaza is justifiable response 2 Gazan response 2 the operation itself. … #huh?”

Meanwhile, an Iranian official reportedly denied that Iran supplied the missiles which were being fired at Tel Aviv [and several towards Jerusalem on Friday]: “A SENIOR Iranian official has denied his country supplied the Fajr 5 missiles which Palestinian militants have been firing at Tel Aviv, Iran’s Al-Alam television reports. ‘We deny having delivered the Fajr 5 to the Palestinian resistance. The aim of such accusations is to portray the resistance as weak whereas it is perfectly capable of producing the arms it needs’, said Allaeddine Boroujerdi, head of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, on Saturday. Islamic Jihad claimed its militants fired a Fajr 5 which crashed into the sea off Tel Aviv on Thursday, in the first such attack on the heart of Israel since Saddam Hussin’s Iraqi regime fired Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf war”. This was reported here.

Major news agencies reported that the missiles fired towards Jerusalem on Friday [one or two of which crashed near a Gush Etzion settlement south of Jerusalem, and another one may also have landed near Mevasseret Zion to the east of Jerusalem, near Abu Ghosh] were the first fired by Palestinians “since 1970″… I am curious about this claim, and can’t recall any missile firing in 1970…nor does it seem that missile capabilities were so advanced or developed in 1970…

At the regular Sunday meeting of the Israeli Cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said that “By now the IDF has attacked over 1,000 terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip and it is continuing its operations as we speak. It is achieving significant hits on weapons aimed at Israeli citizens, as well as on those who use these weapons and those who dispatch them. We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the [other] terrorist organizations, and the IDF is prepared for a significant expansion of its operations”. Netanyahu also said he appreciated the understanding of world leaders that he had spoken to in recent days “for Israel’s right to defend itself”.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Lieberman said that all cease-fire proposals were being reviewed, and an Israeli negotiator reportedly flown to Cairo and back in a small plane.

Some 21 Palestinians were killed by the fall of dark [5:30 pm] in Gaza tonight, bringing the total Palestinian dead to 69 [and counting], while nearly 600 have been injured.

These figures include ten [now 11] members of a family [including the mother and four of her children] who were killed when their home was flattened this afternoon — the target was reportedly the head of the family, Jamal Dalou, who was identified as the chief rocket maker of Hamas.

Meanwhile, for those who still have electricity, and who still have a home, UNRWA TV has, since the fighting began, been broadcasting lessons in Arabic, English and mathematics for 12 hours a day on an educational satelite TV channel for some quarter of a million students in Gaza. Schools are closed due to the fighting, but UNRWA’s health clinics are working and food distribution is continuing to a population of whom half are refugees, and half of them are children. Almost everyone in Gaza is trapped, and unable to escape the fighting.

Haaretz Tweeted its live blog update at the end of the day [just after 5:30 pm], leading with this: “The #IDF has attacked 50 targets today in #Gaza, including rocket launchers and smuggling tunnels”.

A number of missiles were fired at Ashkelon, at Sderot, and a few more also at Tel Aviv. Sirens were sounding in the Tel Aviv area again in the evening [and reports came in of another two interceptions by the Iron Dome system]. A car got a direct hit in Ofakim, injuring four people.

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