Operation Days of Repentance is continuing for the fifth day in northern Gaza. The IDF has captured and surrounded the Jabalya refugee camp which is a center of activity for the manufacture and shooting of Kassem rockets into Israel. This Operation followed the killing of two toddlers in Sderot and the killing of a jogger and two soldiers in Gaza. During the fighting two IDF soldiers have been killed and ca. 60 Palestinians. Most of these are gunmen, some in uniform, most not. A group of four uniformed members of Islamic Jihad who tried to infiltrate the nearby settlement of Nahal Oz during the morning fog, were caught and killed. A group of gunmen who drove towards the border from Jabalya were killed when a rocket fired from a drone hit their vehicle.
In a separate incident last night two Hamas leaders, Mehdi Mushtaha and Kalid Amreet, were killed when a rocket hit their car in Gaza City. Both have been identified as leaders of the manufacture and distribution of Kassam rockets. In all, the IDF estimates that they have knocked out six Kassam rocket launch teams. From that perspective the Operation is a success.
The reactions of the Palestinians to the Operation are varied. The official PA position is that they oppose the firing of rockets into Israel, but they have done nothing to stop them. Arafat has appealed to the world to stop this “racist crime” and the Arab League is meeting in Cairo today. It is unlikely that they will do anything to help the Palestinians, apart from issuing a statement. The Egyptians have been warning Hamas and the PA for months to stop their provocations of Israel. It is also worth noting that the PA forces do not fire the Kassam rockets, and their armed militias are not engaging in the current fighting. This is a source of friction between
Hamas and the PA. Meanwhile Hamas is caught in a dilemma. They held a press conference in Jabalya and declared that they will prevent the IDF from entering the camp, and that they will fire longer range rockets at the Israeli city of Ashkelon (20 km from Gaza). However, the press conference broke up in chaos when an Israeli helicopter was heard circling outside. Later Hamas issued a statement that they will stop launching rockets if the IDF withdraws from Jabalya (really).
Israel has complained to the UN over the picture obtained by a drone of a man carrying a rocket launcher and putting it into a vehicle with a UN logo on the top, and then driving away. The head of UNWRA, Peter Hansen, who is totally pro-Palestinian, has dismissed this claim and said it was a stretcher that the man was carrying. This is a matter of dispute. However, it is undeniable that UNWRA-run camps and facilities have been used freely by terrorist groups for many years, for training, storing weapons and teaching hatred of Jews and martyrdom lessons to children (UNWRA is funded by the US and EU from taxpayer money).
The US has supported Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks, but the State Department spokesman warned Israel to avoid civilian casualties. This while US jets are bombing Samara, Falluja and Sadr City in Baghdad, killing hundreds of civilians. Talk about hypocrisy! But, then war is never fair.
PM Sharon has announced that the Operation will continue “as long as necessary” until a “buffer zone” of ca. 6 miles is established to prevent the launching of rockets into Israel. It is noteworthy that this would probably be happening whether or not Israel “disengages” from Gaza. However, the Disengagement Plan is still going ahead according to schedule. So we have the unusual situation that Israel is re-occupying part of northern Gaza preparatory to withdrawing, and the Palestinians, who really want Israel out of Gaza, are fighting in such a way that the IDF remains there. In the end it is important for the IDF to establish that they are not being “thrown out” of Gaza as Hamas will claim, but it is important for Hamas to try to maintain their credibility to claim that. What a mess!