Gaza back to life as fears held on lull
A Palestinian celebrates truce, which came after eight-day fighting. REUTERS photoLife regained a degree of normality after eight days of fighting that pinned down hundreds of thousands of people in their homes on both sides of the Gaza-Israel border ended with a truce as Hamas declared victory also calling all factions to end strikes.
Thousands of flag-waving Hamas supporters rallied in celebration its first day of calm under an Egyptian-brokered truce that ended the worst cross-border fighting in four years. Eight days of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and a barrage of Hamas rocket fire on Israeli ended inconclusively.
While Israel said it inflicted heavy damage on the militants, Gaza’s Hamas rulers claimed that Israel’s decision not to send ground troops into the territory was a sign of a new Hamas deterrent power.
PM calls on factions to respect truce
“Resistance fighters changed the rules of the game with the occupation [Israel], upset its calculations,” Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who had attended the rally, said later in a televised speech. “The option of invading Gaza after this victory is gone and will never return.” At the same time, Haniyeh urged Gaza fighters to respect the truce and to “guard this deal as long as Israel respects it.”
In rocket-hit towns in southern Israel, schools remained closed as a precaution. Nerves were jangled when warning sirens sounded, in what the military quickly said was a false alarm. Israel planned to discharge gradually tens of thousands of reservists called up for a possible Gaza invasion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the offensive’s aims of halting Gaza rocket fire and weakening Hamas were achieved. “I know there are citizens who were expecting a harsher response,” he said, adding that Israel is prepared to act if the cease-fire is violated. The eight days of fighting killed 161 Palestinians, including 71 civilians, and five Israelis. A Palestinian woman in her late 30s was arrested yesterday after trying to stab an Israeli border guard at the entrance of an east Jerusalem police station, police said. Meanwhile, Israeli troops arrested 55 Palestinian “terror operatives” across the West Bank overnight, with Israeli public radio saying it included members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
‘Attacks may resume’
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned yesterday that Israel may resume its attacks on Gaza at any time if a truce that ended a week of bloodshed fails to hold.
The ceasefire “can last nine days, nine weeks or more, but if it does not hold we will know what to do, and then of course we shall consider the possibility of resuming our [military] activity in case of shooting or provocation,” he told public radio. Hamas wants both Israel and Egypt to lift all border restrictions. Israel, meanwhile, wants Egypt to halt weapons smuggling across its Sinai region into Gaza.
Meanwhile, the truce was hailed by world powers including those from the U.N., U.S., EU and Turkey. The Turkish Foreign Ministry stated on Nov. 21 that Turkey expected Israel and Palestinian groups to stand by the cease-fire and to avoid acts that would harm the cease-fire.
The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, thanked Egypt for mediating and praised Iran for providing Gazans with financing and arms. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Haniyeh.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed the cease-fire, but said he was not very optimistic about it, according to a Pakistani television station that interviewed him yesterday.
Complied from AFP, AP and AA stories by Daily News staff.
Details of top Israeli officials’ truce talks
Israel reached an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with Hamas after two days of fierce disputes among the top Israeli officials who led the military operation against the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met every evening since an operation was launched on the night of Nov. 14, Israeli daily Haaretz reported. Barak opposed an expansion of the operation and thought Israel should respond positively to Egypt’s proposal for a cease-fire. He said the precise wording of the Egyptian draft was not important since the end of fighting and Israel’s power of deterrence would be tested by the reality on the ground.
Lieberman, however, held a much harder stance, claiming that the operation did not sufficiently reinforce Israel’s power of deterrence. He favored a ground operation in Gaza to show Hamas that Israel was not afraid of entering the area.
Netanyahu constantly vacillated between the positions held by Barak and Lieberman, according to the daily. He expressed doubts about a ground invasion that could get messy, both operationally and politically. Netanyahu was worried that the cease-fire would make Israel’s deterrence against Hamas look like a failure. In the end, Lieberman agreed that there was no choice but to accept the cease-fire.
Interceptions cost $30 mln
Israel’s Iron Dome interceptions of Palestinian rockets during eight days of Gaza fighting cost $25 million to $30 million, the government said yesterday, arguing the U.S.-backed system was well worth the money.
“Were Iron Dome traded on the [Tel Aviv] stock exchange or Nasdaq, it would have multiplied its share value several times over,” Civil Defense Minister Avi Dichter told Israel Radio. Hamas rockets killed 5 people in Israel and wounded dozens during the conflict, police said. Three died in coastal Ashdod on a day when Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, Iron Dome’s state-owned manufacturer, said the system had suffered a malfunction. If more Hamas rockets had got through and caused mass casualties, Israeli retaliation perhaps would have been nearly certain. A senior official estimated that such escalation could cost Israel as much as $380 million a day.