‘It’s like living in the Blitz’: Israeli ambassador to the UK describes life for civilians under bombardment from Hamas rockets

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Evacuation: An Israeli soldier rescues a young girl from a site hit by a rocket launched by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva

Israeli civilians are enduring their own terrifying version of the Blitz, according to the Israeli ambassador to the UK.

As explosions continued to terrorize both Palestinians and Israelis for a seventh day running, Daniel Taub compared the Hamas rocket attacks to Nazi Germany bombing raids on Britain during the Second World War.

He declared that just as Hitler terrorized the people of Britain with air attacks ‘over one million Israelis have been forced to live under similar conditions, seeking refuge in bomb shelters as a result of thousands of Hamas rocket and mortar attacks.’

 

DEADLOCK: BUT WHAT DO ISRAEL AND HAMAS WANT?

Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have staked tough, hard-to-bridge positions, and the gaps fuel the threat of an Israeli ground invasion.

The content of the Egyptian plan is unknown, but both Israel and Hamas have presented conditions and Egyptian intelligence officials are meeting representatives from Israel and Hamas separately.

Israel – concentrating on arms and weaponry demands

Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt’s Sinai region, which abuts both Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis.

Hamas – wants attacks halted and restrictions lifted

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007.

Israel has rejected such demands in the past.

 

While acknowledging rockets targeting Israeli civilians ‘do not carry as deadly a payload as that of the German bombs’, Mr Taub said on Huffington Post that ‘their aim is equally sinister and illegitimate.’

Meanwhile Israel has put plans for a ground operation in Gaza ‘on hold’ while talks to secure a truce with Hamas militants continue.

While it is understood a Thursday deadline has been set for the Egypt-brokered talks, an Egyptian intelligence source said ‘there is still no breakthrough and Egypt is working to find middle ground.’

Despite discussions there has been no let-up in the violence overnight as a fresh array of airstrikes pummeled Gaza while rockets pounded southern Israel.

The death toll in the region continues to rise steeply and more than 110 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed since Operation Pillar of Defense began last Wednesday.

Today Israel’s military targeted about 100 sites in Gaza, including ammunition stores and the Gaza headquarters of the National Islamic Bank.

Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said six Palestinians were killed.

Israeli police said more than 60 rockets were fired from Gaza by mid-day, and 25 of the projectiles were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system.

The military said an officer was wounded.

Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have staked tough, hard-to-bridge positions, and the gaps keep fuel the threat of an Israeli ground invasion.

The content of the Egyptian plan is unknown, but both Israel and Hamas have presented conditions and Egyptian intelligence officials are meeting representatives from Israel and Hamas separately.

Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt’s Sinai region, which abuts both Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007.

Israel has rejected such demands in the past.

In Cairo, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate ceasefire and said an Israeli ground operation in Gaza would be a ‘dangerous escalation’ that must be avoided.

He had held talks in Cairo with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil before travelling to Israel for discussions with its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ban planned to return to Egypt on Wednesday to see Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, who was unavailable due to the death of his sister.

Ban said he came because of the ‘alarming situation’ in the region.

‘This must stop, immediate steps are needed to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation,’ Ban said. ‘Both sides must hold fire immediately … Further escalation of the situation could put the entire region at risk.’

The White House said Clinton was going to the Middle East for talks in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo to try to calm the conflict.

An Israeli source said she was expected to meet Netanyahu on Wednesday.

Netanyahu and his top ministers debated their next moves in a meeting that lasted into the early hours of Tuesday.

‘Before deciding on a ground invasion, the prime minister intends to exhaust the diplomatic move in order to see if a long-term ceasefire can be achieved,” a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said after the meeting.

The conflict erupted last week, when a resurgence in rocket fire from Gaza provoked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to strike back, killing Hamas’ military chief in an air attack and carrying out hundreds of assaults on militants’ underground rocket launchers and weapons stores.

The onslaught abruptly turned deadlier over the weekend as aircraft were ordered to go after Hamas military commanders and buildings suspected of housing their commands and weapons caches.

Today’s Israeli aircraft attack on the Islamic National Bank in Gaza was the latest in a string of assaults on Hamas symbols of power.

The strike on the Islamic National Bank was part of a widening Israeli assault against Gaza militants meant to quell rocket fire that has struck deep into Israel’s heartland.

Leading Hamas members set up the bank after it violently overran Gaza in June 2007 because foreign lenders, afraid of running afoul of international terror financing laws, stopped doing business with the militant-led Gaza government.

 

Israel, the U.S. and other Western powers consider Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, a terror group.

The inside of the bank, which was set up by leading Hamas members and describes itself as a private enterprise, was destroyed. A building supply business in the basement was damaged.

Fuad Hijazi and two of his toddler sons were killed Monday evening when missiles struck their one-story shack in northern Gaza, leaving a crater about 7- to 10-feet (two to three meters) deep in the densely populated neighborhood. Residents said he was not a militant.

This morning, the boys’ bodies lay next to each other on a rack in the local morgue, wrapped tightly in white burial shrouds. Their father lay in a rack below.

‘We want to tell the world which is supporting the state of Israel, what this state is doing,’ said neighbor Rushdie Nasser. ‘They are supporting a state that kills children. … We want to send a message to the U.N. and the West: Enough of supporting the Zionists, who are killing children.’

Three Israeli civilians have also been killed and dozens wounded since the fighting began last week, the numbers possibly kept down by a rocket-defense system that Israel developed with U.S. funding.

More than 1,000 rockets have been fired at Israel this week, the military said, including three that struck schools that had been emptied because of the fighting.

 

With tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers dispatched to the Gaza border, awaiting a possible order to invade, the ceasefire mission is all the more urgent.

Germany’s foreign minister was also headed to the region for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Turkey’s foreign minister and a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers were also due to visit Gaza today.

Iran says Palestinians in the Gaza Strip should be ‘equipped’ to defend themselves against Israel.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast refused to comment on Israeli allegations that Iran is already sending arms to Gaza, which has been under Israel’s attack since last week in retaliation for rockets fired by Hamas into Israel.

Iran is a major supporter of the militant groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Mehmanparast also said that Israel should be put on trial for war crimes over the latest offensive.

Iran has previously denied it had directly supplied Hamas with Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles that have hit near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt.

It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt’s Sinai region, which abuts both Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis.

Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel has rejected such demands in the past.

Mashaal told reporters that Hamas would only agree to a cease-fire if its demands are met. ‘We don’t accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor,’ he said. ‘We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands.’

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel prefers to end this round of violence through diplomacy but insists the outcome would guarantee Israel long-term quiet along its border with Gaza.

 

‘The declared purpose of this operation was to make rockets stop, once and for all, or at least for a very long time,’ he said Tuesday, without specifying a timeframe. ‘All instruments have their limitations.

But if the diplomatic path proves itself unuseful, then the only path that will be left is the military. But we hope to explore the diplomatic path to its full extent.’

Successive Israeli governments, meanwhile, have struggled to come up with an effective policy toward Hamas, which is deeply rooted in Gaza, a densely populated territory of 1.6 million.

Neither Israel’s economic blockade of the territory nor bruising military strikes have cowed Gaza’s Islamists, weakened their grip on the Palestinian strip their ability to fire rockets at the Jewish state.

An Israeli ground invasion would risk Israeli troop losses, and it could send the number of Palestinian civilian casualties ballooning – a toll Israel could be reluctant to risk just four years after its last invasion drew allegations of war crimes. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders have urged Israel to avoid a ground war.

Still, with Israeli elections just two months away, polls show Israeli public sentiment has lined up staunchly behind the offensive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has launched.

Israel and Gaza’s militants have a long history of fighting, but the dynamics have changed radically since they last warred four years ago. Though their hardware is no match for the Israeli military, militants have upgraded their capabilities with weapons smuggled in from Iran and Libya, Israeli officials claim.

Only a few years ago, tens of thousands of Israelis were within rocket range.

Today those numbers have swollen to 3.5 million, as the militants’ improved weapons allowed the unprecedented targeting of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this week.

Hamas, a branch of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, is also negotiating from a stronger position than four years ago, when Israel launched a three-week war on the militants in Gaza. At that time, Hamas was internationally isolated; now, the Muslim Brotherhood is in power in Egypt and Tunisia, and Hamas is also getting political support from Qatar and Turkey.

At home, too, the military offensive has shored up Hamas at a time when it was driven by internal divisions over its direction and the new Egyptian government’s refusal to lift the blockade it imposed along with Israel after Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

This newfound backing contrasts radically with the loss of stature the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has endured as Palestinians lose faith in his ability to bring them a state through negotiations with Israel.