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Israel settling scores with Hamas

Posted By Ahmed Abdullah

At least 30 Palestinians, including more than 11 civilians, have been killed in Israeli attacks over the past week after Israel’s security cabinet gave the army the green light to intensify its operations in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials stepped up their campaign against Palestinian resistance fighters by openly threatening to assassinate Hamas’ top leaders, including Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Haniya and exiled Hamas political supremo Khaled Meshaal. 

"There is no one in the circle of commanders and leaders in Hamas who is immune from a strike,” Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh warned on Tuesday. 

Meshaal, who is based in Syria, survived an assassination attempt by the Mossad in Jordan in 1997. Haniya too escaped an Israeli air strike in Gaza in 2004 that killed Hamas’ founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Killing Haniya or Meshaal would comply with a policy long pursued by Israel; “targeted assassinations”, a practice that is heavily criticised as extra-judicial killings, and slammed by human rights groups because it often results in civilian casualties. 

The Israeli aerial offensive that began last Wednesday has plunged the Palestinians deeper into turmoil after nine days of fierce factional fighting between fighters loyal to Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. But even after the two rival factions reached a truce on Saturday, it was clear that Israel was determined to use the situation to settle political and military scores with Hamas. 

The recent Israeli threats and the ongoing offensive in Gaza, which targets not just rocket teams but top Hamas’ commanders, installations and infrastructure, forced Hamas’ leaders to disperse from all their known places, switch off their mobile phones to avoid detection and avoid large gatherings. There are reports that 20,000 Israeli troops are awaiting orders to reoccupy Gaza when they erect a barrier across the southern Philadelphi Route, ostensibly to prevent arms smuggling from Egypt. 

According to an article on The Observer, the U.S. and Israel have openly supported Fatah in its fight with Hamas by supplying money, equipment and training to its fighters in Gaza. Israel also gave permission for 500 policemen, under Abbas’ control, to return to Gaza following training in Egypt. Despite this, the Israelis claim that the ongoing offensive has nothing to do with the latest round of factional fighting in Gaza and is merely aimed at halting Palestinian Qassam rockets from hitting Israeli targets, despite the fact that most of these homemade rockets miss their target and land on desert sands. 

To further intensify its campaign against Hamas, Israel is also considering cutting Gaza’s water and electricity supplies, a move advocated by Israel’s former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is believed to have ordered the 1997 attempt on Meshaal’s life. Netanyahu is thought to be positioning himself to replace Ehud Olmert, whose approval ratings have sunk to unprecedented lows following Israel’s humiliating defeat during last summer’s war against Lebanon’s Hezbollah. 

Although Olmert is struggling to stay in office, the prime minister doesn’t want to be dragged into another conflict without a comprehensive plan. At the same time he wants to counter Palestinian rocket attacks and neutralize the growing influence of Hamas. Olmert also knows that a massive offensive in Gaza could have a major influence on Fatah’s power struggle with Hamas. 

Israel wants Abbas to prevail but overt assistance for Fatah could backfire because many Palestinians could regard the president as an ally of the Jewish state. Perhaps this is why Israeli officials say they have no immediate plans to launch a huge ground offensive in Gaza. 

Unfortunately, rival factions Fatah and Hamas have fallen in the divide-and-rule trap and have been fighting in Gaza for control of what actually is an overcrowded open-air virtual prison. It could be argued that a ceasefire between the two rival factions is bad news for Israel. 

Meanwhile, the international community turns a blind eye to Gaza’s 1.5 million residents who have been suffering from years of occupation, sporadic factional fighting and repeated Israeli attacks. The whole world also ignores the expansion of Israel’s illegal colonies around Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. It also did nothing to back the Arab peace initiative, which is supported by all 22 members of the Arab League and offers Israel “normalization” of ties in return for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, the creation of a Palestinian state and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, a plan Israel rejected twice; when it was first launched in 2002 and when it was revived at an Arab League summit last March. 

Earlier this week, Israeli Vice President Shimon Peres promised that his government would offer a counterproposal to the Arab initiative. However, he didn’t provide any details of the new proposal nor did he say when it might be disclosed. Hopes were dashed after a top Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman later said he knew nothing about the new proposal. 

Till when will Israel continue to reject peace offers from the Arab League for the sake of wars and localized conflicts? Arabs have made it clear that they are ready to recognize Israel as a good neighbor. It’s time the Israelis chose leaders that advocate peace, not war. If they don’t wake up to embrace this reality before it’s too late, then as Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat recently warned, the region “is doomed”


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