Why did the IDF let Hamas dig so many tunnels into Israel?

For years, the Israeli Defense Forces have been aware of the construction of tunnels from Gaza into Israel, it has known where these are located and it has done nothing.

We hear a lot about Israel’s right to defend itself but what about its responsibilities when defending itself?

I refer not simply to the glaringly obvious responsibility of proportionality in the use of violence, but also the responsibility to take prudent steps to avoid conflict in the first place.

Specifically, since Israel asserts that tunnels from Gaza pose a strategic threat, why has it done so little in the past to prevent these tunnels from being constructed, made such feeble attempts to locate those that exist, and left in place tunnels it already identified?

Israelis frequently assert “we have no choice” when justifying the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people, yet those who are attached to victimhood invariably do this: use the cloak of necessity to cover up their own bad choices.

In reality, Israel rarely lacks the opportunity to make choices; what it lacks is sound judgement.

The latest chapter in Israel’s long narrative — casting itself once again as a victim of necessity — is the current campaign in Gaza whose ostensible purpose is to destroy the “infrastructure” of Hamas’s “terror tunnels.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says: “We will not complete the operation without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children,” reports the New York Times. “It cannot be that the citizens of the state of Israel will live under the deadly threats of missiles and infiltration through tunnels — death from above and death from below.”

The paper goes on to describe how Israelis are now held captive by their fear of the terror tunnels:

In cafes and playgrounds, on social-media sites and in the privacy of pillow talk, Israelis exchange nightmare scenarios that are the stuff of action movies: armed enemies popping up under a day care center or dining room, spraying a crowd with a machine gun fire or maybe some chemical, exploding a suicide belt or snatching captives and ducking back into the dirt.

“It takes us a little bit to our childhood fairy tales of demons,” said Eyal Brandeis, 50, a political scientist who lives on Kibbutz Sufa, a mile from where 13 militants emerged from a tunnel at dawn July 17. “It’s a very pastoral environment I live in, the quiet, the green grass, the trees. It’s not a pleasant thought that you sit one day on the patio drinking coffee with your wife and a bunch of terrorists will rise from the ground.”

Devils who emerge from the bowels of the earth — their sole intention being to kill or kidnap Israelis. There cannot be any doubt that the Israeli government, like any other, would do everything in its power to protect its citizens from such an awful threat.

Yet Israel bombs Gaza now because in the past it did so little to address this issue.

Either the magnitude of the threat has in recent days been wildly exaggerated, or the IDF is guilty of gross negligence.

(Just to be clear, while the current war on Gaza began in the name of halting rocket attacks, it is now squarely focused on tunnel destruction. This is the justification being used for flattening whole neighborhoods.)

The Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar reported yesterday:

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Efraim Barel, a resident of Nirim village, said that the residents of villages the length of the border with Gaza not only heard and sensed the excavations underway beneath their homes, but even uncovered tunnels in their areas. According to Barel and others, the IDF did nothing about it.

“For years, the residents heard noises,” Barel said. “One Friday, I was lying on the couch and heard loud knocking, boom-boom-boom. I really felt it from under the sofa. My dog started to bark, to go crazy. The army came. They were by me under the house for three days. They asked questions, brought all kinds of instruments to hear noises, and that was the end of it. Later on, there was flooding in the area and then one of the tunnels was exposed. Evidently, that was the tunnel I had heard being dug under my house.”

That the subsoil of this area is well suited to tunneling has been known since Alexander the Great’s siege of Gaza in 332 BC. But unlike the protagonists of that era, Israel has access to technology capable of finding existing tunnels and detecting those under construction — although the narrative of necessity is still being promoted through reporting such as this in Haaretz on July 17:

The IDF has tried almost every possible technological solution in its attempt to find tunnels. They have used geologists, experts in the search for oil and gas, and U.S. Army personnel, but so far no guaranteed solution has been found.

A report in the same newspaper a week later undermines this claim.

Even after the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured in a Hamas raid in 2006 and taken back to Gaza through a tunnel, Israel failed to take responsibility for its own defense by preventing new tunnels being constructed and failed to locate and destroy existing tunnels. The means to accomplish both of those goals have long been available and would cost relatively little to implement.

Israel’s failure to shut down the tunnels may even suggest that this was not the result of negligence. On the contrary, by allowing the tunnels to remain in place, Israel’s political and military leadership may have made a conscious choice to retain a pretext for renewed attacks on Gaza — a pretext that could be deployed whenever it suited Israel’s purposes.

How could Israel have addressed this issue before now? Haaretz reports:

There are three main types of technology for locating tunnels; the most common is based on listening for digging. In 2009, scientists at the Technion technology institute’s Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering presented a method for identifying tunnels using a fiber-optic cable.

The Technion’s Assaf Klar and Raphael Linker say the system can even locate narrow tunnels more than 60 feet (18 meters) deep while keeping a lid on false alarms.

“Tunnel excavation is accompanied by the release of stresses that cause permanent — though very tiny — displacements and strains in the ground,” Klar says. “If you can measure these strains in the soil with sensitive equipment, you can find a tunnel’s location.” Tunnel excavation produces a very distinctive signal, he adds.

The research lays the groundwork for an underground fence based on existing technology called BOTDR — Brillouin optical time domain reflectometry. This makes it possible to measure fiber distortion along 30 kilometers using a single device and a standard fiber-optic cable — a cable that costs only a few shekels a meter.

The system is based on so-called wavelet decomposition of the BOTDR signal, a process that breaks down the signal into simpler shapes and filters out irrelevant noise. The signals that remain are then classified by a network that locates tunnels using the computer simulation of tens of thousands of profiles, including disturbances not related to tunneling; for example, raindrops.

“The ability of the BOTDR approach to supply a continuous profile of soil distortions along the fiber-optic line — and the ability of the neural network to identify the relevant profile — are the keys to the system’s success,” Linker says.

In recent days, geology experts have made their own claims; they say technologies indeed exist to locate the tunnels, it’s just that the IDF hasn’t adopted them. “It’s not a challenge and it’s not difficult; solutions are already at hand,” says Dov Frimerman, the former geologist at the Public Works Department.

Frimerman was one of the geologists behind the research into the sinkholes near the Dead Sea. He describes another method for locating underground spaces via radar, which he used to find sinkholes at the Dead Sea.

“If I drive a car or armored personnel carrier with underground radar attached, technically there’s no tunnel I can’t identify up to 10 meters deep,” he says. “You can go over the entire border at 5 kilometers an hour and within three hours mark every tunnel.”

The radar sends electromagnetic waves into the ground and creates a picture of the soil layers — “for example, if there’s a fault. That’s how we found the [hollow] spaces under the parking lot of what was the resort village at Ein Gedi,” Frimerman says.

This American-made radar is relatively simple to use. Frimerman notes that even Hamas’ tunnels more than 10 meters deep can be found by this method when the tunnels slope up into Israeli territory. Also, sealed- and concrete-walled tunnels can be identified this way.

A third method for locating tunnels more than 10 meters deep is microgravimetry, which measures very small variations in gravity.

“The level of precision of this test is in parts of a billion, so there’s no hole or space in the ground up to 100 to 150 meters that can’t be identified with it,” Frimerman says. The equipment was originally developed by NASA and was used to test gravity variations to determine the distribution of minerals in the ground.

The method for locating tunnels by listening for sounds underground is called geo-seismology. It’s based on the use of microphones as underground sensors.

“When you don’t know if there are tunnels you can dig two pits 10 centimeters in diameter and 10 meters deep. You place microphones there, which cost $80 to $100 each, and connect them to equipment that costs $2,500. It’s impossible to reach a distance 100 meters from the microphones without hearing movement in the headphones,” Frimerman says.

“If the tunnel is ready, you can hear whoever is walking in it; you can distinguish between the steps of a person and the steps of a fox, for example. It’s impossible to dig at a distance of 100 to 150 meters from the microphones without noticing the digging.”

For a relatively low price the IDF could spread microphones 100 meters apart and cover the entire Gaza border, Frimerman says. If the position where soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted in 2006 had two microphones near the fence 100 meters apart, no one could have walked through the tunnel without being heard, he adds.

“The technology exists; it’s not clear why they aren’t using it,” he says. “We proposed it 30 years ago.”

Frimerman’s claims are also backed up by one of Israel’s best known geologists, Col. (res.) Yossi Langotsky, the man behind Israel’s massive oil-and-gas discoveries off the coast. He also set up Military Intelligence’s special-operations division and is a two-time winner of the Israel Defense Prize.

The IDF characterizes its current operation as both proactive and defensive: “We’re not willing for [Hamas] to come and meet us in our backyard,” says IDF spokesman Peter Lerner. “We want to meet them in theirs.”

But Israel has been aware of tunnel construction since 2003 and contrary to the IDF spokesman’s claim seems to have been quite content to face Hamas in its backyard. Indeed, one might wonder whether aside from the political value tunnels offer to Israel in providing a ready-made pretext for attacking Gaza at any time, Israel’s unwillingness to prevent tunnel construction may say as much about a more visceral objection: why go to the expense of digging up your own land and installing a network of sensors, when instead you can bomb Gaza, teach Hamas a lesson and show the Palestinians you’re still the boss?

The “terror tunnels” pose less of a threat to Israel than they serve as yet another excuse to ruthlessly bludgeon the residents of Gaza.

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Israel creates ‘no man’s land’ in Gaza, shrinking Strip by 40 percent

Jesse Rosenfeld reports: This narrow strip of land that used to be called “the Gaza Strip,” already one of the more densely populated places on Earth, is growing dramatically smaller. The Israeli military, relentlessly and methodically, is driving people out of the 3-kilometer (1.8 mile) buffer zone it says it needs to protect against Hamas rockets and tunnels. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the buffer zone eats up about 44 percent of Gaza’s territory.

What that means on the ground is scenes of extraordinary devastation in places like the Al Shajaya district approaching Gaza’s eastern frontier, and Beit Hanoun in the north. These were crowded neighborhoods less than three weeks ago. Now they have been literally depopulated, the residents joining more than 160,000 internally displaced people in refuges and makeshift shelters. Apartment blocks are fields of rubble, and as I move through this hostile landscape the phrase that keeps ringing in my head is “scorched earth.”

It’s not like Israel didn’t plan this. It told tens of thousands of Palestinians to flee so its air force, artillery and tanks could create this uninhabitable no-man’s land of half-standing, burned-out buildings, broken concrete and twisted metal. During a brief humanitarian ceasefire some Gazans were able to come back to get their first glimpse of the destruction this war has brought to their communities, and to sift through their demolished homes to gather clothes or other scattered bits of their past lives. But many were not even able to do that. [Continue reading...]

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Lifting the blockade isn’t a Hamas demand — it’s a human right

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Senate Leader: U.S. can do more ‘protecting Israel’ (destroying Gaza)

Politico reports: The Obama administration’s $225 million request to aid Israel during its war with Hamas may not be enough, warned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday afternoon.

At the request of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Senate Democrats folded $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system into a larger bill that offers $2.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the influx of Central American migrants to the southern border. But Reid said Israel will need even more help from the United States if the war in Gaza continues, demonstrating the need to pass the funding package this week ahead of a five-week congressional recess.

Reid predicted that Hagel’s aid request for Israel may turn out to be “only temporary” given the steep costs associated with operating Iron Dome, which picks off Hamas’s rockets at a price-tag of $62,000 per missile, according to Reid.

“We should not give the Israeli people the minimum amount of aid and then cross our fingers and hope it all works out in the future,” Reid said. “We can do better and need to go further in protecting Israel.”

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Freedom for Palestine: #GazaNames Project

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Ilan Pappé: Israel has chosen to be an apartheid state — with U.S. support

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Susan Rice launches staunch defence of Israel despite ‘alarming’ Gaza death toll

The Guardian reports: The senior White House adviser Susan Rice used a crucial speech on Monday to underscore the administration’s commitment to Israel and dismiss critics of its military offensive in Gaza, which has claimed hundreds of civilian lives, as biased and unjustified.

In a staunch defence of Israel’s response to rockets fired from the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas, Rice was particularly critical of the United Nations human rights council, which recently voted for an inquiry into the possible war crimes violations committed by Israel.

“When countries single out Israel for unfair treatment at the UN, it isn’t just a problem for Israel, it is a problem for all of us,” Rice said on Monday. She added: “No country is immune from criticism, nor should it be. But when that criticism takes the form of singling out just one country, unfairly, bitterly and relentlessly, over and over and over, that is just wrong – and we all know it.”

Rice, who is national security adviser to Barack Obama, expressed concern about the deaths of civilians, on both sides, and reiterated the US president’s call for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.

The top adviser’s remarks came at a critical juncture. Rice spoke shortly after Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, used a televised press conference to warn Israelis to prepare for a long and protracted conflict, defying international calls for a cessation of the violence. [Continue reading...]

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The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn writes: Israeli spokesmen have their work cut out explaining how they have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, compared with just three civilians killed in Israel by Hamas rocket and mortar fire. But on television and radio and in newspapers, Israeli government spokesmen such as Mark Regev appear slicker and less aggressive than their predecessors, who were often visibly indifferent to how many Palestinians were killed.

There is a reason for this enhancement of the PR skills of Israeli spokesmen. Going by what they say, the playbook they are using is a professional, well-researched and confidential study on how to influence the media and public opinion in America and Europe. Written by the expert Republican pollster and political strategist Dr Frank Luntz, the study was commissioned five years ago by a group called The Israel Project, with offices in the US and Israel, for use by those “who are on the front lines of fighting the media war for Israel”.

Every one of the 112 pages in the booklet is marked “not for distribution or publication” and it is easy to see why. The Luntz report, officially entitled “The Israel project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary, was leaked almost immediately to Newsweek Online, but its true importance has seldom been appreciated. It should be required reading for everybody, especially journalists, interested in any aspect of Israeli policy because of its “dos and don’ts” for Israeli spokesmen. [Continue reading...]

The Israel project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary can be read here.

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The advantage the Palestinians have over the Israelis

Every chapter in the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians provides graphic examples of the extraordinary inequality between the adversaries.

Israel has F-16s, smart bombs, tanks, artillery, drones, Apache attack helicopters and the financial support of the U.S. government. The military force of the Palestinians poses less threat to Israelis than do daily traffic accidents.

By the metrics of war, whether it’s in terms of deaths, injuries, prisoners taken, territory occupied, or property destroyed, Israel is unequivocally and overwhelmingly the dominant power.

And yet in spite of this dominance the Palestinians have an advantage over the Israelis:

Palestinians are not afraid of Israelis.

Israel, on the other hand, is a country governed by fear — fear of Palestinians, fear of Arabs, fear of Muslims, fear of rejection, fear of isolation, fear of the world, fear of annihilation, and fear of peace.

In every conceivable way, Israel has accrued the material of power — militarily, economically, and politically through its alliance with the United States — but all these physical attributes of power cannot conceal its core weakness.

Meanwhile, the less faith Israel has in itself, the louder it shouts.

Paul Mason writes:

The call to prayer started when it was still dark. There’d only been three or four explosions audible overnight, so people came on to the streets quickly, the women into the courtyard, men and boys onto the vast carpet of the Al-Umari mosque.

There’s a mixture of looks on people’s faces, ranging from devout to simply stunned.

“They are trying to crush the nation,” the imam says, in his sermon. “They don’t understand we are a nation that can’t be crushed.”

They’re the kind of words you hear from people who’ve in fact been crushed, but here amid these ancient arches, and on this day, they’re more than rhetoric.

Because it’s quiet: yes the drones are in the sky, yes there’s the crack of tank fire just past the shattered apartment blocks of Shejaiyah, and the occasional rattle of small arms.

But something has, for now, cranked the intensity of the war down. Overnight, Barack Obama called on Israel to cease fire immediately. The Israeli PM, Binyamin Netanyahu rejected it out of hand. The reason why is understood by the smallest Palestinian child skipping in this medieval yard.

If Israel stops now, Hamas wins a massive moral victory. Netanyahu said as much, on US TV. A poll today says 89 per cent of Israelis want their army to carry on fighting until they “topple Hamas”. It’s a fantasy – and a sick one because, to make it happen, you would have to fill these streets with civilian corpses, and on a scale far in excess of the 1,062 deaths so far.

Ameera, aged 15, has lived through night after night of bombing. “I am not frightened,” she says. Why not? “Because I am Palestinian. Palestine will be free, and I say again Palestine will be free, and I am not afraid of any Israeli.” [Continue reading...]

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Interview with Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal

(I will post the complete interview once it’s available on PBS.)

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As the Gaza crisis deepens, boycotts can raise the price of Israel’s impunity

Rafeef Ziadah writes: After 21 days of bombing, Israel still refuses a comprehensive ceasefire that meets the minimal, unified demand of all Palestinians – to let people lead normal lives. This is not a war, let alone one of self-defence, but a punitive expedition aimed at maintaining the siege and illegal military occupation. Civilians, hospitals and residential blocks bear the brunt of the attack because the only “military” aim of onslaught is to cower Palestinians into complete submission.

In July 2004, the international court of justice ruled that Israel’s wall and the associated regime in the occupied West Bank of settlements, land confiscation, segregated roads and movement restrictions is illegal under international law, and that governments have a legal duty to act. However, 10 years on, the international community still averts its gaze, failing to lift a finger to hold Israel to account. EU foreign ministers, even after they heard news of the massacre of Shuja’iya, demanded the disarmament only of Gaza. Yet it is Israel’s hi-tech arsenal, funded by US aid, generous EU research grants and the flourishing multibillion arms trade, that rains down horror on civilians.

Lip-service aside, western governments support the siege of Gaza, the building of settlements and therefore Israel’s periodic massacres. The impunity granted to Israel is completely at odds with the democratic will of the people, as the current international outpouring of solidarity with Gaza shows.

If governments refuse to act, then the vast international support that Israel enjoys must be tackled by international grassroots civil society, using the methods that isolated South Africa during apartheid. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. public opinion on Israel’s assault on Gaza more evenly divided than media claims

Rafat Ali writes: The US public opinion on support for Israel’s military actions against Gaza is not as one sided as media portrays it to be.

I decided to test the American public, using Google Consumer Surveys, a very reliable online polling tool from Google, and focused on two questions that CNN asked in its survey. CNN has touted these results as overwhelming support for Israel, though the winds are changing, and “favorable opinions of Israel have edged down since earlier this year,” as it says.

But the Google Consumer Survey results tell a different story, and are eye-opening, to say the least.

The first survey results here, the second are here, you can go dig in. [Continue reading...]

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Still torn by factional fighting, post-revolt Libya is coming undone

The New York Times reports: For weeks, rival Libyan militias had been pounding one another’s positions with artillery, mortar rounds and rockets in a desperate fight to control the international airport in the capital, Tripoli. Then suddenly, early Saturday morning, the fighting just stopped.

The pause came as United States military warplanes circled overhead, providing air cover for a predawn evacuation of the American Embassy’s staff. Apparently fearing the planes, the militias held their fire just long enough for the ambassador and her staff to reach the Tunisian border — a reminder to Libyans of how even their most powerful allies were incapable of putting out their incendiary feuds.

American officials said the evacuation was a temporary measure after fighting drew too close to the embassy. But, coming so soon after the withdrawal of other diplomatic missions, including the United Nations, the moment appeared to signal a defeat — for Libyans who had convinced themselves that the country would band together to save the revolution, and for the country’s Western allies, who sometimes acted as if Libya’s stability would take care of itself.

“No one in Libya can win,” said Mahmoud Okok, 33, a civil engineer who lived near the airport and the United States Embassy, and who abandoned his apartment because of the shelling. A cousin who also lived near the airport was killed when a rocket landed on his home. Now Mr. Okok was moving, with his wife and young son, overseas.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “I have lost hope in Libyans.” [Continue reading...]

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Justice Dept. moves to shield anti-Iran group’s files

The New York Times reports: The Obama administration has gone to court to protect the files of an influential anti-Iran advocacy group, saying they likely contain information the government does not want disclosed.

The highly unusual move by the Justice Department raises questions about the connections between the American government and the group, United Against Nuclear Iran, a hard-line voice seeking to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The group has a roster of prominent former government officials and a reputation for uncovering information about companies that sometimes do business with Iran, in violation of international sanctions.

The Justice Department has temporarily blocked the group from having to reveal its donor list and other internal documents in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Greek shipping magnate the group accused of doing business with Iran. Government lawyers said they had a “good faith basis to believe that certain information” would jeopardize law enforcement investigations, reveal investigative techniques or identify confidential sources if released. [Continue reading...]

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The Palestinians’ right to self-defense

Chris Hedges writes: If Israel insists, as the Bosnian Serbs did in Sarajevo, on using the weapons of industrial warfare against a helpless civilian population then that population has an inherent right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The international community will have to either act to immediately halt Israeli attacks and lift the blockade of Gaza or acknowledge the right of the Palestinians to use weapons to defend themselves.

No nation, including any in the Muslim world, appears willing to intervene to protect the Palestinians. No world body, including the United Nations, appears willing or able to pressure Israel through sanctions to conform to the norms of international law. And the longer we in the world community fail to act, the worse the spiral of violence will become.

Israel does not have the right to drop 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on Gaza. It does not have the right to pound Gaza with heavy artillery and with shells lobbed from gunboats. It does not have the right to send in mechanized ground units or to target hospitals, schools and mosques, along with Gaza’s water and electrical systems. It does not have the right to displace over 100,000 people from their homes. The entire occupation, under which Israel has nearly complete control of the sea, the air and the borders of Gaza, is illegal.

Violence, even when employed in self-defense, is a curse. It empowers the ruthless and punishes the innocent. It leaves in its aftermath horrific emotional and physical scars. But, as I learned in Sarajevo during the 1990s Bosnian War, when forces bent on your annihilation attack you relentlessly, and when no one comes to your aid, you must aid yourself. When Sarajevo was being hit with 2,000 shells a day and under heavy sniper fire in the summer of 1995 no one among the suffering Bosnians spoke to me about wanting to mount nonviolent resistance. No one among them saw the U.N.-imposed arms embargo against the Bosnian government as rational, given the rain of sniper fire and the 90-millimeter tank rounds and 155-millimeter howitzer shells that were exploding day and night in the city. The Bosnians were reduced, like the Palestinians in Gaza, to smuggling in light weapons through clandestine tunnels. Their enemies, the Serbs — like the Israelis in the current conflict — were constantly trying to blow up tunnels. The Bosnian forces in Sarajevo, with their meager weapons, desperately attempted to hold the trench lines that circled the city. And it is much the same in Gaza. It was only repeated NATO airstrikes in the fall of 1995 that prevented the Bosnian-held areas from being overrun by advancing Serbian forces. The Palestinians cannot count on a similar intervention. [Continue reading...]

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Gazans want a ceasefire with an end to the siege

Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports: The destruction is total. No building has been left untouched by Israel’s bombardment in the Masryeen neighborhood in this northeast Gaza town. Mounds of rubble line the streets where buildings once stood. Dead horses and donkeys lie in the road, stiff with rigor mortis. Even colors have been erased. The entire area is covered in grey cement dust, a monochromatic wasteland. The smell of death lingers in the air as the bodies yet to be retrieved from the debris decompose in the summer heat. The sounds of shelling and airstrikes have stopped but the buzzing of the drones remains.

A 12-hour humanitarian truce agreed to by Israel and Hamas took hold on Saturday morning, allowing residents displaced from the areas hardest hit by Israel’s assault to return to their neighborhoods for the first time in days. Gaza health officials said more than 100 bodies were recovered during the lull, bringing the Palestinian death toll above 1,000, the vast majority of them civilians, including more than 200 children. Forty-three Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have also been killed. On Sunday, as the conflict entered its 20th day, Israel announced that it would extend the quiet for 24 hours, but a more lasting cease-fire remains elusive. (And by Sunday’s end in Gaza, the fighting resumed.)

“We don’t just want a humanitarian truce, we want a total cease-fire that will end the siege. Truce after truce is not what we’re looking for,” Ihab al-Hussein, Hamas’s deputy information minister, told me in an interview on Saturday in Gaza City. “This is not a real truce because that would mean Israel pulling out its tanks from Gaza,” he said. “We didn’t start this war, we don’t want it. If you ask Palestinian people they say they want a cease-fire but with an agreement to end the siege.”

In the hours leading up the temporary cease-fire, the Israeli air force dropped 100 bombs, each containing a ton of explosives on Beit Hanoun, a town in northeastern Gaza close to the borders with Israel, according to Haaretz. Many of Beit Hanoun’s 30,000 residents had fled the area.

The devastation is so complete that some residents who returned during the temporary cease-fire on Saturday could not locate where their homes once stood. A man walked alone in the middle of the road surveying the wreckage. “This is a town of ghosts, not people,” he said aloud to himself.

Hamza al-Masry, a 27-year-old from al-Masryeen, sat crouched atop a pile of broken cement and twisted rebar that used to be his family home, a four-story apartment building that once housed 50 people. He came back to try and salvage something. There was nothing left.

“I couldn’t get anything out. I can’t even find clothes,” he said. “I only have the ones I am wearing.” He says he left his home with his family on Monday and sought refuge in a nearby United Nations school. The shelter was shelled on Thursday as 1,500 displaced Palestinians had gathered in the schoolyard awaiting buses to transfer them to another area.

Al-Masry said at least four shells hit the school sending hundreds fleeing into the streets in panic. Sixteen people were killed and 200 wounded in the attack. Displaced again, al-Masry is now staying at another U.N. school in Jabalia, further south. “We don’t want a cease-fire anymore,” he said. “After the destruction we have seen, all we want is resistance.” [Continue reading...]

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Why Israel doesn’t want a ceasefire with Hamas

Larry Derfner writes: If Israel agrees to end the war on terms that grant major, transformative relief to Gaza, that largely lift the blockade on the Strip and allow Gazans substantial freedom of movement – which is what Ban and even Kerry are talking about – then Hamas wins the war.

And this Israeli government will not allow that, not only because of false national pride, but also because if Hamas wins freedom for Gaza, it will take over the West Bank, directly or indirectly. The Palestinian Authority will collapse – to be replaced by Hamas or the Israeli military, either scenario being a nightmare for Israel – or the Palestinian Authority will refuse to go on playing Israel’s cop and begin demanding freedom for the West Bank, too.

As Noam Sheizaf wrote, Israel could agree to a ceasefire that ended the chokehold on Gaza if it was ready to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories altogether, in the West Bank as well. But it’s not. And so the only ceasefire the Netanyahu government will agree to is one that gains Gaza nothing or, at most, finds Israel throwing it a bone, thereby teaching Hamas and the rest of the Palestinians that firing rockets at Israel – even under extreme Israeli provocation – gets them nothing but a lot more pain.

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U.S. diplomats and Marines close embassy and flee Libya fighting

The Daily Beast reports: Under the watchful eye of a military drone and three F-16 warplanes flying protective cover, 158 U.S. diplomats and 80 U.S. Marines evacuated the American embassy in Tripoli, Libya, on Saturday. Although there was no specific threat targeting the U.S. personnel, fighting between rival factions in the Libyan capital is raging amid fears the North African country is headed irreversibly toward anarchy. U.S. warships were positioned off the coast and more contingents of Marines were flown to the immediate vicinity, ready to deploy if needed to protect the evacuation convoy.

The Tripoli airport has been shut down by combat between two of the country’s most powerful militias, and most of the airplanes there have been destroyed or damaged so the evacuation had to be carried out overland: a five-hour drive to neighboring Tunisia. Under orders from Washington, the convoy pulled out of Tripoli at dawn and made it to safety by mid-day. It is unclear when or if the embassy will reopen.

Libya has been flirting with civil war for months as local gangs, ideological militias, Islamists and hopelessly dysfunctional state institutions have vied topsy-turvy for control. But this week Libya’s capital was rocked by some of the worst violence since the 2011 uprising that led to the NATO-backed ouster of strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster, and with no sizeable national security force of its own, the government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani has been unable to halt the descent into chaos. The U.S. isn’t alone in pulling out. Amid the rising violence, the United Nations has evacuated staff and Turkey announced Friday it was shuttering its embassy. The UK urged British citizens to leave Libya. [Continue reading...]

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