maandag 22 december 2008

Hamas raketten kunnen rand Be'er Sheva bereiken

Het afgelopen weekend zijn er weer tientallen raketten op Israel afgevuurd vanuit de Gazastrook, en Israel heeft in reactie luchtaanvallen uitgevoerd op de lanceeerders van de raketten. Hamas zegt dat het ook zelfmoordaanslagen niet uitsluit, en Israel heeft gedreigd de luchtaanvallen op te voeren.
Het staakt-het-vuren heeft dus niet meer dan tijdelijke rust gebracht, en op geen enkele wijze de partijen dichter bij elkaar gebracht. Dat moet vooral Hamas worden aangerekend. Het bleef de eisen voor een gevangenenruil maar opschroeven ondanks Israels flexibele houding wat dat betreft. De vrijlating van Shalit - ook als daar honderden Palestijnse gevangenen tegenover staan - heeft voor Israel een zeer grote, ook symbolische, waarde. Het hele land leeft mee met de ouders van Shalit. Het thuisbrengen van iedere soldaat is een belangrijk principe, vandaar de vele voor Israel ongunstige gevangenenuitwisselingen uit het verleden. Als Hamas de grenzen open wil hebben, dan is dat het recept ervoor.

Shin Bet chief: Hamas rockets can hit outskirts of Be'er Sheva
By Barak Ravid, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff , Haaretz Correspondents
Last update - 16:23 21/12/2008

Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin said Sunday that Hamas is capable of firing rockets that can strike targets as distant from Gaza as the outskirts of the Negev capital of Be'er Sheva.

He told a meeting of the cabinet that rockets could also hit Kiryat Gat and Ashdod, cities which thus far were seen as beyond range. Hamas' armed wing used the last six months of relative calm to improve its medium and long-range rockets and mortars, he said.

"We believe that if we strike at significant assets, they will respond with longer-range fire," Diskin said.

Hamas officials, meanwhile, are not ruling out a renewal of suicide bombings in Israel. Ayman Taha, a Hamas representative in Gaza, told Haaretz that under the current conditions, no cease-fire is in effect whatsoever. "Rocket fire is in the hands of the military wing. It will decide how to react," he said. "Resistance must continue in every way and by every means, as long as the occupation continues."

In the course of the cabinet meeting, a number of ministers took Defense Minister Ehud Barak to task for what they termed the failure of his policy of relative restraint in the face of continued rocket fire into Israel from Gaza.

Barak told the cabinet that if Israel wants to retake the Strip, a broad offensive would be needed. But he said that there was no magic formula by which, in one blow, quiet would be restored and Hamas taken apart.

According to Diskin, Hamas has lifted its reins from other armed organizations, and had resumed firing on its own.

"Make no mistake, Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms. It wants us to lift the siege [on Hamas-ruled Gaza], stop [IDF] attacks, and extend the truce to include Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]," Diskin said.

The is no effective mediator between Israel and the Palestinian side, he said. The Egyptians are sitting on the fence, and there's a lack of trust between Hamas and Egypt, he continued, adding that were Hamas to find itself in a situation in which it needed Egyptian mediation, the Egyptians will again be players.

IDF girding for Gaza border escalation

The Israel Defense Forces is preparing to escalate its activities at the Gaza Strip border in response to continuing Qassam rocket and mortar fire into the western Negev.

On Saturday alone 13 rockets and 20 mortar rounds were fired into Israel. No one was injured, but one rocket damaged a kibbutz building. The violence came after Hamas' official announcement that it would not extend its six-month cease-fire with Israel.

The Israel Air Force staged a number of operations over the Strip in the past two days in an effort to weaken the rocket launchers.

An air force strike in Beit Lahia Saturday killed Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades militant Ali Hijazi, 25, while he was trying to launch rockets. Two others were wounded. Though affiliated with Fatah, the organization's branch in Gaza does not operate under the instruction of the movement's leadership in the West Bank.

Security sources on Saturday told Haaretz that a new policy would be drafted in the coming days for dealing with rocket fire from the Strip. Israel will ratchet up air force strikes, which will no longer be limited to rocket-launching cells themselves. They will also target weapons stores and workshops, as well as the heads of networks involved in rocket launching.

"We will have to take an aggressive line," a security official said. "Israel gave Hamas an opportunity to gradually pull back the rocket strikes, but it didn't respond. This level of violence, with close to 10 rockets fired a day, is unacceptable."

Israel is taking into account that a military escalation could lead militants firing the Qassams from Gaza to expand their range of targets. Sources at Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service believe rockets launched from the Strip can now reach Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malakhi and the suburbs of Ashdod and Be'er Sheva.

Until now, Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the majority of rockets fired into Israel, and a number of smaller militant groups have claimed the rest.

A Qassam rocket fell Saturday next to a factory in Sderot, and a mortar shell fell on a cosmetics institute in Kibbutz Kfar Aza.

Kibbutz residents strongly criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "The number-one security official has failed us. From the moment the entered into the cease-fire from a position of inferiority, he surrendered to them," said one.

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