Monday, December 29, 2008

"Cast Lead" Day 3: War With Hamas

One man was killed and fourteen injured when a Grad rocket plowed into a building site in Ashkelon, an Israeli coastal city with 105,000 residents. Other Grad rockets also fell in Ashdod, population 250,000, killing one woman and injuring four. Qassam rockets fell in various parts of the Negev. One man was killed. Many rockets fell in Sderot, but caused no injuries. Over all 70 rockets fell in Israel during the day. Early Tuesday morning a rocket fell in an army encampment killing an Israeli soldier.

The murdered man in Ashkelon, a 27-year old Israeli Arab from near Dimona, was killed when the rocket exploded in the building site where he worked.

The Israel air force continued the attacks on Gaza, striking over one hundred targets, including the Islam University, the Ministry of the Interior, Prime Minister Hanniyah’s office building, warehouses of missiles, and other targets. News reports said that the university was a repository for weapons, missiles, and ammunition. According to Channel 2 TV news Israel has sources on the ground that inform the air force of any Hamas terrorists moving around by truck, car, or motorcycle, that become targets of the air force. Jiahd Abu Ter, a senior Hamas leader, was killed in one of the attacks. Overnight Israel continued the air strikes, taking down three Hamas government buildings.

Israel Television's news reports from Channel 1, 2 & 10 all report that Israel has started sending out recorded messages to mobile phones in Gaza warning residents a few minutes before an air force strike, allowing them to flee the building before the air strikes.

According to Israel Television’s Channel 2, more than 50 per cent of the rockets in Hamas’ possession have been destroyed. Israel's ground forces and hundreds of tanks have gathered outside Gaza awaiting orders to attack. Hamas has nearl 20,000 fighters awaiting the ground attack. Israel military sources say if Israel invades it will be no "picnic" with IDF soldiers loss of life and injuries expected.

Israel’s television broadcasts show constant coverage, close-up through the Al Jazeera TV station, and farther away by Israel TV cameras on rooftops across the border. All broadcasts show the occasional plume of smoke rising a hundred feet in the air.

Demonstrations against Israel’s action were held in universities in Israel. Arab and Jewish students in Haifa faced off as one group demonstrated against the attacks and the other in favor. Similar scenes were observed at both Tel Aviv University, where three hundred Arab and Jewish students demonstrated against the attacks, while other Jewish students demonstrated against the demonstrators. Three Jewish students were arrested demonstrating along with the Arabs.A similar demonstration took place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In Modiin Elite a dispute between an Arab construction worker and his employer turned violent, with the worker stabbing the contractor and then four other people in the area.

On Sunday night Highway 65 the road along Wadi Ara in the north of Israel only a few kilometers from the coastal town of Hadara, was the scene of violent protests by Israeli Arabs, who threw stones at the Israeli police, and shouted “Death to Jews.” Other demonstrations took place in Nazareth and E. Jerusalem.

A large Hezbollah organized demonstration took place in Beirut. Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah, speaking from a secure underground location, implored Arab countries to come to the aid of the Palestinians in Gaza. Another large demonstration against the Israeli action took place in Cairo. Other demonstrations against the attacks took place in London and Chicago.

Ehud Yaari, Arab affairs reporter for Israel Televisions Channel 2, said that Israel’s time is running out for this operation. According to Yaari it is only a question of time before the pressure on Egypt and Jordan force those Arab countries to pressure Israel to a cease-fire. Yaari said that Israel would not have thirty days to fight as they did in Lebanon in 2006. Yaari said that the window of opportunity is very limited. He mentioned the Christmas to New Year holiday in Europe and the USA as a time frame, assuming the pressure from Europe on Israel would begin after the New Year holiday.

Yaari, translated, then summed up a long speech by Nasrallah. According to Yaari, Nasrallah said that the increase in firing of rockets from Hamas proved that Hamas was reacting as Hezbollah did in 2006. He knows that the air force cannot get results alone and needs ground troops. That, according to Nasrallah, will be the downfall of the Israeli attack. Nasrallah called on Egypt to influence Israel to stop the fighting and open up the Rafiah crossing. Yesterday Nasrallah called on the overthrow of Egyptian leader Hussnei Mubarak for complicity in the attacks on Hamas.

So far approximately 350 Gazans have been killed so far, according to doctors in the Gaza hospitals. They doctors said it was hard to determine the exact number since some bodies were still scattered around the hospital grounds. Approximately 1,500 have been wounded.

According to the Jerusalem Post Israel is using small smart bombs recently acquired by the US. The bombs are about 1.5 meters in length and carry a warhead capable of penetrating up to 90 cm of cement. These bombs are small and light and powerful, and allow one jet fighter to carry a large number for a single sortie. The smart bombs are also extremely accurate, allowing Israel to bomb a building within a crowded neighborhood. The smart bombs were also used to destroy forty tunnels along the Philadelphi route.

Collateral damage is also unavoidable, according to the IDF. So far nearly 60 civilians have been killed including women and children.

Arabs sources in Gaza report that the city is in a panic, with the constant pounding by Israel’s bombing. Food is in short supply and electricity and fuel are scarce. Hamas for it’s part has been broadcasting commercials, replete with a skull not seen since the Nazi SS propaganda, calling on all Arabs to kill Israelis. In the video clips, broadcast on Al Jazeera TV, Hamas says it will never surrender no matter how much Israel attacks.

Israel’s Homeland Security ordered the closure of all kindergartens and schools within a 20 km radius of the Gaza border. The closure of all business was also ordered, including the mall in Ashkelon. Residents were warned to stay home, or near a security room or bomb shelter.

Yuli Tamir, Israel’s Minister of Education, speaking on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, said this morning that the closure of the schools will continue on a day-to-day basis.

The skies over the area, from Haifa to Gaza, were cloudy with occasional rain, obscuring the Israel air force’s view of the ground. This, according to military sources, has allowed Hamas to more freely attack Israeli targets. However the firing has to be hurried, and consequently inaccurate.

Israel’s hotels and restaurants in the center and north of the country have begun to offer free room and board to those Israelis under fire in the south.

One of the messages repeated over and over by Israeli reporters is the difference between the “Cast Lead” operation and the War in Lebanon II. According to reports, this operation was in the works for months, perhaps a year one source says. It was carefully planned, with intelligence gathered all along until targets were clearly defined. Also, in contrast to the 2006 operation, the army was well-trained, well-equipped, and in general well-prepared for the action.

The Haaretz newspaper reported on the continuing conflict between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. According to one camp, Olmert was the one behind the preparations and execution, according to the other Olmert was ill prepared, impulsive, and impatient, and it was Barak who held back until the time was right for the attack.

Political considerations were also tossed around as part of the attacks. Some commentators accused Barak of launching the attacks to better his position in the upcoming elections. Others say that this is a cynical use of political rivals to besmirch his name. One group, unnamed, approached the court to postpone the upcoming elections, to be held in February, because of the war. A postponement would most benefit Olmert, who would stay in power until the new date for elections.

Head of Homeland Security, Aluf Mishne (Colonel) Yaron Barde appeared on Israel Television and advised residents of the time from a siren until the rocket’s arrival, and how to behave accordingly. Col. Barde said within a 4- 10 km distance from the Gaza border, residents should be no more than seconds from a shelter 10 –20 thirty seconds, 30-40 km a minute, according to General Beer Sheva has been warned to stay aware, and realize that they have one –minute from the sound of the siren until the rocket’s landing. Colonel Barde said schools have undergone exercises on how to get to the nearest bomb shelter and quickly and quietly go there.

What is the radius to protect, he said, was the most pressing issue. The distance to the nearest shelter has to be measured according to the time from the siren until the rocket’s arrival. He said that in many instances it is preferable to stay at home rather than risk running outside to a bomb shelter.

According to Channel 2’s military reporter Hamas has not been hit at the core of it’s military leadership. He also said that a tunnel was discovered from Gaza leading into Israel apparently with the intention of bringing weapons or a Hamas group into Israel to carry out a terrorist attack or perhaps a kidnapping of another soldier like Gilad Shalit. This tunnel was destroyed completely. Israel reportedly plans to continue the attacks.