In response to heavy rocket fire on Jerusalem, Hadera and other cities, the Israeli military on Tuesday began a massive air campaign against the Islamist militant group Hamas, hitting launch sites and other areas suspected of housing Hamas fighters. Israel has also called up 40,000 reservists and armour to the border for possible ground operations.
The fighting is the heaviest the region has seen in two years and follows a month of escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers on June 12 and a reprisal killing of a Palestinian boy last week.
Israeli police forces have since apprehended and charged six Israelis suspected of involvement in the killing while the whereabouts of the Hamas militants implicated in the murdering of the Israeli teenagers remains unknown.
While Hamas denied involvement in the abduction and killing of the teenagers, Hamas’s political chief, Khaled Meshal, extolled “the hands that carried out the kidnapping [and murder] of the settlers.”
The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the “Palestinian presidency condemns … the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys and the series of Israeli violations” to which Hamas replied was a “poisonous knife in the back of our people.”
The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) began the offensive – named Operation Protective Edge – in the early hours of Tuesday morning, striking dozens of targets, including senior members of Hamas. Since then the death toll has risen to over one hundred people with hundreds more injured.
Speaking on national television, Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a public address defending the operation: “Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza are firing rockets on cities throughout the State of Israel – on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheva, Sderot and other cities in Israel. No Country on earth would remain passive in the face of hundreds of rockets fired on its cities and Israel is no exception.”
The IDF said the purpose of the mission is to “retrieve stability to the residents of southern Israel, eliminate Hamas’ capabilities and destroy terror infrastructure operating against the State of Israel and its civilians.”
President Abbas referred to the Israeli offensive to quell the rocket attacks as “genocide,” stating that the operation “is a war against the Palestinian people as a whole and not against the [Islamist] factions,” he said. “We know that Israel is not defending itself,” Abbas added, “it is defending settlements, its main project.”
President Abbas also criticized Hamas for its attacks on Israel. “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” he asked on national TV. Although Abbas did not specifically mention Hamas in his televised remarks, he said his government “prefer[s] to fight with wisdom and politics.”
Due to the speed and intensity of the air strikes against Hamas, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said “we have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes.”
“Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” she said.
Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for Hamas, said in an interview on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV that their tactic of using Palestinians as human shields has “proved very successful”. They also mentioned the group will continue to encourage Palestinians to head to their rooftops whenever the IDF launches incursions into the Gaza Strip.
“This attests to the character of our noble, jihad-fighting people, who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood. The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation,” Zuhri said.
According to reports, Hamas has struggled to run its Islamist government since it took over the Gaza Strip in 2007. It is financially and economically broke and has lost much of its regional support; especially Egypt since El-Sisi ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi from office. Egypt has severed logistics and supplies and views the terrorist group as an enemy of Egypt.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said that the heavy rocket fire consistently raining down on Israeli cities from Gaza “prove[s] that Hamas continues to target innocent civilians,” and that “Canada believes that Israel has every right to defend itself from such belligerent acts of terrorism.”
The Israeli Ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, commented on the violence, saying “we know that only peace can bring our region out of the dark ages and into modernity. We know that peace will improve the prosperity of all, and we want to share our expertise with our neighbours. However, we also know that there can be no peace with terror and no viable negotiations with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. It is, therefore, in the interest of peace that we eliminate terror from our region — only then can we turn the page on our double reality.”