Magazine article The Middle East

Upping the Ante: Israel Has Threatened to Launch an All-Out Invasion of the Gaza Strip If the Violence against Its Border Towns Continues. There Seems a Fair Chance Hamas and Fatah Will Join Forces to Fight the Invading Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Troops If That Happens. the Prospects for Peace, despite the Fine Rhetoric of International Politicians, Do Not Look Good, as Mel Frykberg Reports from Gaza

Magazine article The Middle East

Upping the Ante: Israel Has Threatened to Launch an All-Out Invasion of the Gaza Strip If the Violence against Its Border Towns Continues. There Seems a Fair Chance Hamas and Fatah Will Join Forces to Fight the Invading Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Troops If That Happens. the Prospects for Peace, despite the Fine Rhetoric of International Politicians, Do Not Look Good, as Mel Frykberg Reports from Gaza

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

SDEROT, A WORKING-CLASS Israeli town of 22,000, has been battered by more than 4,500 crude Qassam rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, just a mile away, since 2001. A total of 970 rockets and 1,200 mortar shells have been fired at Israel from Gaza since the start of 2007.

The unguided projectiles have killed several residents and injured dozens more, sowing panic on the town's streets every time an alert is sounded. Real estate prices have dropped 60%, commerce has collapsed and many residents have fled in fear of their lives.

The Islamic Jihad militant group takes responsibility for firing many of the rockets, in what it describes as "revenge attacks", with Hamas claiming responsibility for the rest. The organisation has confirmed that it has completed preparations of its new defence programme and is ready to face the IDF if it invades the Gaza Strip.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman from Hamas' military wing, Iz a-Din Al Qassam, declared: "The Israeli army won't know where the blows are coming from, and how its tanks will be hit by missiles in our possession," said Obeida. He added that IDF troops would encounter militants trained in new combat methods acting upon instruction from an operational command centre shared by all of the Palestinian organisations and went on to confirm Hamas' cooperation agreement with both Hizbullah, the Lebanese resistance movement, and the Syrian regime.

The Israelis have been threatening a large-scale military invasion of Gaza, in an attempt to stop the continual Qassam attacks on Israeli towns for some time but, so far, they have settled for one-day incursions, which usually provoked a Qassam response from Gaza the following day.

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said that though daily strikes against Palestin-Jan militants in the Gaza Strip were having a positive impact, the continuing attacks make a major Israeli military offensive ever more likely.

Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv on security issues, Ashkenazi stated, "We are operating in Gaza on a daily basis, we have returned from a broad operation--this brings a reduction in the ground threat and the firing of rockets but does not stop it. We will come to the point where we will have to carry out the big operation."

The protracted tit-for-tat military offensives have claimed the lives of ordinary civilians, including women and children, as well as senior leaders leaving mosques or driving in their cars.

The alarmed leadership of the two Arab groups have issued warnings to their men to stay out of cars, switch off their mobile phones and remove the batteries, in order to prevent Israel from tracking them. They have also threatened to renew suicide bombings in Israel.

Making a major military Gaza operation even more inevitable, Hamas has recently upgraded its Qassam rocket capability in the Gaza Strip, raising grave concerns in the Israeli defence establishment.

Senior defence officials say Hamas is now able to store the rockets for a relatively long period, which would allow the organisation to launch a large number of Qassams at one time.

Until recently, Hamas had difficulty in storing the rockets. The Qassam is a relatively primitive device, assembled on improvised production lines in the Strip. The explosive charge installed on the rockets is volatile and might explode if kept for more than a few weeks. This is one of the reasons behind Hamas' haste to launch most of its rockets as soon as it gets them.

Over the past year, the IDF and Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) have said two developments could prompt a major Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip. One was an improvement in the range of the Qassam rockets, which would place Ashkelon within range. The other was an ability to store the rockets for a longer period of time. It seems that Hamas has already achieved the latter, and is close to achieving the first. …

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