Israel-Gaza conflict: Ceasefire's bloody end could lead to long-term occupation

 

Israel’s fierce response to renewed Palestinian rocket attacks yesterday, with air strikes that killed two people, raised the prospect of an escalation that would see fighting resume at full force, only three days after Israel pulled its troops out of Gaza.

The other possibility last night was that the conflict could enter a drawn-out, attritional phase, given that Israel yesterday put on hold its participation in Egyptian-brokered ceasefire talks with Hamas in Cairo.

Shortly after Hamas opted not to extend a three-day humanitarian ceasefire yesterday, Palestinian militants in Gaza began launching more than 50 rockets at southern Israel. Hamas decided not to renew because its demands, including lifting of crippling border curbs on the coastal enclave, had not been met.

Two Israelis were wounded by attacks, rekindling right-wing calls to oust Hamas and mount a full Israeli reoccupation of Gaza. Hamas did not take responsibility for the rocket and mortar fire, that was claimed by smaller groups.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, signalled that its participation in the Cairo talks was off for now. “When Hamas broke the ceasefire, when Hamas launched rockets and mortar shells at Israel, they broke the premise of the talks,” he said. “There will not be negotiations under fire.”

 

Two empty houses were struck by rockets in the southern border town of Sderot, prompting its mayor, Alon Davidi, to say that Israel had not achieved its goals in the month-long Operation Protective Edge. “This makes clear to anyone who still had a doubt, that Hamas does not feel vanquished, is not afraid, and has not been deterred by the Israel Defence Forces,” he said, adding that the Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, had “not delivered the goods and is not bringing security”. Mr Davidi called the army’s response of 40 air attacks on targets in Gaza “weak”.

Zeev Elkin, chairman of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, added that the rocket barrage proved “that the only language Hamas understands” was that “spoken by the Israel Defense Forces”.

In the view of Maj GenYaakov Amidror, Israel’s former national security adviser, continuation of Palestinian fire could push Israel into an all out reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.

“The longer it continues and there is a feeling that the situation isn’t going anywhere,  and that the other side thinks it can impose ceasefire terms on us that are unacceptable, the more it heads towards conquering Gaza,” he told The Independent last night. “That would be devastating for both sides, but that is what will happen in the end.”