A brief humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza war began Monday morning, right after Israel finished a little business with Islamic Jihad, as reported by Fox News:
The group said that its commander in the northern part of the strip, Daniel Mansour, died when the Israeli strike hit his home just before dawn Monday. The Islamic Jihad group is an ally of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. However, The Wall Street Journal reported that Islamic Jihad may be using the present fighting to increase its clout in the region.
U.S. and Israeli officials told the paper that Islamic Jihad has closer ties to Iran than Hamas, and said the group might have been pressured by Iran to continue fighting in defiance of any truce.
The Israeli military said the cease-fire, which began at 10 a.m. local time (3 a.m. Eastern Time), would not apply to areas where troops were still operating and where they would respond to any attacks.
In other words, Israeli Defense Force teams are still working on taking down Hamas’ terror tunnels, and will defend themselves if the Palestinian terror gang tries another sneak attack, like the one that killed 23-year-old Lt. Hadar Goldin after the previous cease-fire went into effect. It was thought that Goldin was taken hostage, thanks in part to some loud boasts from Hamas fighters to that effect, which abruptly ceased when the terrorists realized it was important to pretend Israel had broken the cease-fire.
Hamas is keeping up that pretense today, which provides vital political cover for their supporters – including the Obama Administration – even as the less deranged governments of the Middle East turn against them:
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group was skeptical about the Israeli truce announcement. “We do not trust such a calm and call on our people to take caution,” Zuhri said.
The Journal reported Monday that U.S. officials are concerned that divisions between the political and military wings of Hamas have contributed to difficulties in securing a lasting cease-fire. Since most of the militant group’s political leaders — who are more likely to support a truce — live outside of Gaza, officials and analysts say that it is possible that their messages are not being transmitted quickly enough to fighters on the ground.
Yeah, that’s the ticket! Hamas’ “political wing” is full of peace-loving statesmen, but they’re having trouble getting the cease-fire orders to the “militant wings” fluttering all over Gaza. Sounds like a dreamy political system! Let’s pour more foreign aid money into it, cross our fingers, and hope they don’t use all the cash and construction supplies to build more tunnels!
Israel’s withdrawal of ground forces suggests they’re making good progress on wiping out the Hamas tunnel network, at least the part that directly threatens Israel. Some of those tunnels are miles long, and pop out near Israeli civilian targets. The discovery of munitions, kidnapping equipment, and rapid underground transportation has led to speculation that Hamas was planning a massive terror operation through the tunnels, timed to coincide with Jewish holidays. That discovery seems to have quickly shifted the Israeli strategy to an all-out tunnel-busting operation, combined with a final round of air and artillery strikes to take out Hamas rocket launchers and mortars.
One of those strikes led to Israel’s worst public-relations problem in the war:
U.N. officials claim more than three-quarters of the dead in the war have been civilians, including the 10 people killed Sunday at a U.N. school that has been converted into a shelter in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack a “moral outrage and a criminal act” and demanded a quick investigation, while the U.S. State Department condemned the strike in unusually strong language.
According to witnesses, Israeli strikes hit just outside the main gates of the school on Sunday. The Red Crescent, a charity, said the attack occurred while people were in line to get food from aid workers. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said in addition to the dead, 35 people were wounded.
Robert Turner, director of operations for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said the building had been providing shelter for some 3,000 people. He said the strike killed at least one U.N. staffer.
“The locations of all these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times,” Turner said. “They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea.”
The “unusually strong language” from the U.S. State Department consisted of spokesperson Jen Psaki declaring that the U.S. was “appalled” by the “disgraceful shelling outside a UNRWA school.” Why would the Israelis conduct strikes in that area? It’s a real head-scratcher. Maybe this map from the Israeli Defense Force can shed some light on their thinking:
At least three UNRWA schools have also been used by Hamas as ammo dumps, while other UN facilities turned out to be located right on top of Hamas tunnel entrances. For some reason, you don’t see a lot of headline-news coverage about those “appalling” situations. One booby-trapped Hamas tunnel blew up and took out the U.N. clinic situated on top of it last Wednesday, killing three IDF soldiers. Some Gaza authorities have suggested the clinic was either decommissioned, or that Hamas operatives stole a U.N. clinic sign and hung it on the building to help keep the tunnel entrance undisturbed. Gaza Division commander Brig. General Micky Edelstein explained the psychological value of such tactics to Hamas, as quoted by the Times of Israel:
Edelstein used the alleged clinic as an illustration of the difficulty inherent in fighting an enemy willing to exploit both civilians and non-governmental organizations. ???Once you enter such a clinic and you see the UNRWA sigh on it and you know there is a terror tunnel there, you know it???s a very very sensitive building, and you???re thinking of the not-terrorist Palestinians living there all around, and you???re trying not to harm this place,??? Edelstein said.
He said Hamas militants have used more than a thousand IEDs so far, destroying thousands of buildings in the Gaza Strip.
As an example he noted that in sweeps of a single street of 28 buildings Tuesday night, 19 were found to be booby-trapped.
I don’t recall hearing much outrage from the United Nations about Hamas’ appropriation of their facilities for illicit military purposes, and they didn’t seem terribly upset about Hamas popping off a dozen mortar attacks from the immediate vicinity of that Rafah shelter. Funny how that works.
Another Times of Israel article confirms that the IDF has made good progress in taking out the Hamas tunnel network, although a spokesman cautioned there was still work to be done:
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, confirmed the bulk of ground troops had been pulled out of Gaza after the military concluded it had destroyed most of the tunnel network.
He said Israel had detected some 30 tunnels that were dug along the border for what he called a ???synchronized attack??? on Israel.
???We???ve caused substantial damage to this network to an extent where we???ve basically taken this huge threat and made it minimal,??? he said. The army had thousands of troops in Gaza at the height of the operation.
In southern Israel, armored vehicles could be seen rolling slowly onto the back of large flatbed trucks near the Gaza border, while soldiers folded flags from atop a tank and rolled up their belongings and sleeping bags.
Lerner said, however, that the operation was not over and that Israel would continue to target Hamas??? rocket-firing capabilities and its ability to infiltrate Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scolded President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for meddling in the conflict, warning the Administration “not to ever second-guess me again” when it comes to cease-fire plans. He has said the objective of this operation is to “demilitarize” Gaza, which is a pretty tall order. It will be interesting to see if the Israelis have made enough progress toward that goal to consider extending the current humanitarian cease-fire, assuming Hamas also goes along.
Update: Amid rioting in Jerusalem, a terrorist attacked a bus with a backhoe, killing one victim and injuring several others. Fortunately, the police noticed the “erratic behavior” of the tractor right before the attack, and were able to kill the terrorist driver fairly quickly. Presumably that’s police gunfire in this viral video of the incident: