Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gaza Isn't Panama

On Wednesday, March 23, at least one woman was killed and over 30 injured, two seriously when a 2 kg pipe bomb hidden in a backpack placed beside a public telephone detonated, at about 15:00, near the number 74 bus stop. The bomb was placed between Jerusalem's Benyenai Hauma national convention center and Jerusalem's Central bus station adjacent to the new train station, still under construction, on the road leading out towards Tel Aviv. This was the first time since 2004 that a bomb exploded in Jerusalem.

The explosion took place in front of a kiosk that fifteen years ago was the site of an explosion of a number 18 bus. In Wednesday's explosion four people waiting for buses were seriously injured, one elderly woman was in critical condition. Others were moderately or lightly injured, all were evacuated to local hospitals.

According to Channel 2 police reporter Moshe Nussbaum, the small size of the bomb seems to indicate that no large Palestinian organization was responsible for the blast, rather a home-grown group centered in one of the Arab villages, towns or even Arab neighborhoods in E. Jerusalem. None of the passengers on the Har Nof bound number 74 bus were injured in the blast. Police Chief Dudi Cohen said he didn't expect a new wave of terror in Jerusalem. Cohen also said there was no prior warning of the attack. He said he didn't see any link between this bomb and one that was discovered at a bus stop in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood a few weeks ago.

Israel has been undergoing an increasing cycle of violence. More than 70 rockets have been fired from Gaza over the last week, including two long-range Grad rockets that fell in Beer Sheva at about 05:15 this morning injuring one man who stood at his window after the early-warning siren sounded and was injured by shrapnel and glass when the rocket fell just outside his house. That blast followed an earlier rocket that fell in the coastal town of Ashdod.

Between the rockets falling in Ashdod and Beer Sheva, seven other rockets fell in open areas of Southern Israel. Hamas sources blame Israel for the uptick in violence after a fringe Palestinian group fired a number of salvos into Israel from Gaza and Israel responded by attacking Hamas operatives in their cars and from buildings where rockets were being launched.

In one IDF artillery attack aimed at Palestinian militants, Palestinian officials say three teens and their uncle were mistakenly killed and thirteen others injured as they played soccer in their back yard in the Gaza Strip. According to the Haaretz newspaper's on-line addition, one of the injured children in the home was brought to an Israeli hospital for treatment.

Hamas claims that Israel overreacted by attacking the men instead of empty smuggling tunnels or vacant ammunition factories. Hamas was bound to respond with increased firepower. Israel claims the IDF mortar strike was launched in response to repeated rocket fire towards Israel. Following the Grad attacks on Beer Sheva several Knesset members called on a Iron Fist 2, referring to Israel's invasion of Gaza Dec 27, 2008.

According to Minister Eli Ishai of the right-wing ultra-Orthodox Shas party, the bombing at the #74 bus stop was just one example of the increase in terrorist activity. He mentioned the murder of the Fogel family in the West Bank family of Itamar last week when a mother, father and three children, one four months old, were murdered by knife wielding terrorists.

Ishai echoed the calls of other knesset members for an attack on Hamas forces in Gaza. The Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the bombing calling it an act of terror. But he also called for international protection of civilians in the Gaza strip. Israel's PM Netanyahu expressed regret for the Gaza civilians killed in the IDF strike, saying the IDF has opened an investigation into the incident. Ishai also said that Hamas was using civilians as human shields.

Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan told the Associated Press that "Israel is escalating against our people and the whole world should show their responsibility to stop this escalation." Israel's IDF spokeswoman Lt. Col Leibovich said Israel didn't intend to raise the level of tension and hoped neither did Hamas. She added that Israel never operates when civilians are identified.

Yossi Melman, writing in Haaretz, criticized the government for not deploying the expensive Iron Dome anti-missile system to defend against the Grad rockets. The Grad, wrote Melman, was in the air for nearly two-minutes from the time it was fired from Gaza until it landed in Beer Sheva. The Iron Dome can be fired takes only 25-seconds
to intercept a missile.

Melman says there are three possible reasons the multi-billion dollar system, unused, locked up in an Israeli air force base, is not deployed. One, that Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak doesn't want it deployed for his own reasons. Two, that the system doesn't work well and once that fact is known sale of the system to foreign countries would be difficult, and three, that the system doesn't work at all and the parties involved are trying to cover that up. Whatever the reason, Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod and even Tel Aviv are now targets of Hamas rockets.

Some observers say that the turmoil in the Middle East, from Syria to Libya, is contributing to the upheaval in Gaza and the West Bank. One commentator said that when the USA evacuated their forces from Panama, the Panamanians turned the huge US army base into the University of Panama. In contrast, when Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip the buildings left behind were used as launching pads for rockets attacking Israel.