Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 8: Close to a Deal? Fighting Continues.

There was a flurry of diplomatic activity yesterday in Israel, Egypt and Gaza as various countries and organizations tried to broker a cease fire deal of some sort. Word began leaking out that a deal had been struck to commence a cease fire - or at least a "lull" by late yesterday evening.  TV stations (and the Egyption president) announced that the Hamas government would announce a cease fire arrangement of some sort at approximately 9 p.m., followed by the official commencement of a temporary truce at about midnight. 

As the cease fire approaches, Hamas ramped up its efforts to cause maximum damage to Israel and its civilians.  Tens of rockets were fired at the city of Beersheva, as well as other southern Israeli cities, some of which scored direct hits.  A shopping mall was hit.  Missiles also hit a bus with some passengers and a residential home.  A young Israeli soldier, Yosef Fartuk, age 18, was killed, along with a contractor.  In total 5 Israelis have been killed since hostilities began.

This condominium building was hit yeseterday in the central Israeli city of Rishon L'Tzion, early in the evening,  by an  Iranian made Fajr 5 Rocket.  The residents heard the alarm and all went into the "Shelter Room."  The rocket went through four stories but the residents were mostly uninjured with a couple of people suffering minor bruises.  Newer buildings in Israel are all buillt with a "shelter room" surrounded by thick concrete walls.  Israelis have been urged by the Israeli Government to take shelter in these rooms as soon as they hear an alarm in their are.  In this case, listening to these instructions saved lives.

Building in Rishon L'Tzion - Nov 20, 2012 Courtesy of YNet News
With the combination of stepped up attacks from Hamas aimed at Beersheva and other areas, the amount of damage and the missiles sent to central Israel, the Israeli government responded by having the IDF step up its attacks.

Diplomatic efforts are apparently continuing in an effort to diffuse the crisis and come up with a cease fire arrangement.  U.S. Secretary of State is in the region and is meeting with Israeli, Egyption and Palestinian leaders.  Many other international diplomats are involved.  It does appear that a deal was close yesterday but may have been disrupted by the severe attacks and damage caused  by Hamas as the cease fire time approached.  Reports also suggest that Hamas was only pushing for a short "lull" rather than a longer term arrangement.

Israel is not interested in a truce deal that will simply allow Hamas to use a short pause to obtain more rockets from Iran and that start filing missiles in another few days or even weeks.  Israel is insisting that any type of  deal address at least some of the broader issues and include guarantees from Egypt or other countries that Hamas will not continue to bring rockets and weapons into Gaza.  In exchange, Israel is reportedly willing to ease its control of Hamas borders but only if it can be satisfied that a military embargo will be put in place.

Meanwhile, as the fighting continues, Israelis have been watching the news and seeing Hamas rockets fired at their homes and other civilian areas.  While the IDF faces world pressure to avoid civilian casualties at all costs, the Hamas goal is to cause maximum civilian casualties.  Some Israelis can't help but think that Israel should lob rockets into crowded Gaza civilian centres in response to the attacks on its civilians if that is the only way of deterring Hamas.  But of course, Israel will not do that.  It is committed to mainting the ethical and moral highground and fighting the war agains these Hamas terrorists as humanely as possible.

Despite IDF efforts to avoid civilian casualties, Palestinian sources have indicated that more than 100 people in Gaza have been killed by Israeli attacks, some of whom have been civilians.

This pattern of violence is all too familiar in this region.  At least some Israelis are hoping that this war will lead to a renewed sense of urgency to address broader issues and try to resolve the whole Palestinian-Israeli dispute.  It is hard to say that there are many Israelis who believe that this is likely - since Hamas controls the Gaza strip and has stated repeatedly that it is committed to the goal of destroying Israel.  Nevertheless, some believe that Hamas does have a pragmatic side and that it might even be a negotiating partner that will be more likely to enforce and uphold commitments that it makes unlike Fatah (the PLO). 

In any event, the ongoing costs of this constant struggle are staggering.  They take a heavy toll on both sides, economically, militarily and in so many other ways.  We continue to hope that we will be able to find a deal with the Palestinians that will work for both sides and that will put an end to this conflict.  Unfortunately, looking the trends in the region and, particularly, the spread of radical Islam in Egypt, Turkey and other countries in the area, it is difficult to be optimistic. 

Update - at 12:30 p.m.:

Two terrorists placed a bomb in a bus in central Tel-Aviv just after 12:00 p.m. today.  The bomb exploded injuring more than 10 people, 5 of them seriously.  The two terrorists reportedly ran off the bus.  The explosion shattered the bus but, fortunately, was not as lethal as some of the bus explosions that suicide bombers have undertaken in the past in Israel.  The combination of the ramped up level of attacks on Israel yesterday (which may have derailed the cease fire plans) and now this type of attack may well harden Israeli resolve to continue or broaden the campaign against Gaza.


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