Israel sends tanks into Gaza

Jerusalem Israeli tanks entered the southern Gaza Strip yesterday, drawing mortar fire from Palestinian militants and undermining a tenuous truce. The tanks, backed by a bulldozer, drove 500 metres into the strip and levelled earth near Rafah, Gaza’s southeastern border crossing with Egypt.

Israel said that the operation was mounted to uncover explosives, while the Palestinians accused Israel of trying to increase violence. The latest fighting began two weeks ago and there is now a near-daily cycle of mortar attacks on southern Israeli towns and Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. At least 17 Palestinians have died, and several Israelis have been wounded.

“There is not right way to deal with the issue of a Hamas government in Gaza. There is need for an urgent cabinet meeting to determine our policy against the Hamas government. The current reality is that Israeli deterrence is wearing out… It appears that we are the ones acting like the ones interested in a truce, not Hamas. This approach and policy is wrong,” said Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli Transportation Minister and former IDF Cheif.

Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader, said he supported maintaining the truce, so long as the crossings into Gaza were reopened.

“We are still committed to what we declared and after the end of the 6 months we will sit down and re-evaluate this experience,” he told a gathering in Gaza.

Israel has regularly closed border crossings into Gaza in response to rocket fire from militants. The closures have drastically reduced supplies to Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, and drawn criticism from the international community.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the closures a “direct contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.” Though the UN resumed food distribution to half of Gaza’s population Monday morning, they warned aid supplies were dangerously low.

In recent months, foreign activists have defied the siege, reaching Gaza by boat from Cyprus to try to draw attention to the crisis caused by the blockade.

Several of those activists were arrested yesterday, after they boarded Palestinian boats to express solidarity with Gaza fisherman and strayed into waters which the Israeli military said were outside the defined fishing zone. A local anti-blockade activist, Amjad Shawwa, identified the activists as Andrew Muncie of Scotland, Darlene Wallace of the United States and Vittorio Arrignoni of Italy. Fifteen Palestinian fishermen also were arrested.

November 19, 2008
Sheera Frenkel

Source: The Times

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