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Monday, November 19, 2012

GAZA - ISRAEL CONFLICT: More strikes hit Gaza and Israel as diplomatic efforts intensify


updated 5:30 PM EST, Mon November 19, 2012

Palestinian children look at damaged buildings following Israeli air strikes Sunday in Rafah.Palestinian children look at damaged buildings following Israeli air strikes Sunday in Rafah.
Violence flares between Palestinians, Israelis

  • NEW: A West Bank protester dies after clash with Israeli troops, hospital official says
  • The solution is "stop shooting and that's it," Israel's president says to Hamas
  • U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrives in Egypt to press cease-fire talks
  • Palestinians don't want ground war, "but we are not afraid of it," Hamas leader says

CNN has multiple crews in Gaza, Israel and neighboring countries to bring you the latest accurate information on the conflict, the impact on people and talks to stop the violence. Turn to CNN TV and for what you need to know now and watch AC360º tonight at 8 ET.
Gaza City (CNN) -- Warplanes, drones and rockets crisscrossed the sky over Gaza for a sixth day Monday as Israel pressed its air offensive against Hamas, whose leader vowed continued resistance against what he called a "criminal enemy."
"We do not want escalation, nor do we call for a ground war," Khaled Meshaal of Hamas said. "But we are not afraid of it, nor will we back down."
In Israel, air raid sirens wailed all day long and troops shepherded residents into bomb shelters as rockets fired from Gaza arced overhead. In densely populated Gaza City, where rockets are launched and suspected militants live among civilians, smoke and fire poured from buildings that had been struck by Israeli warplanes or drones.

Map: Israel Map: Israel
Map: IsraelMap: Israel

Reporter ducks as Gaza alarms sound

In Gaza, nowhere to go

Israeli forces target media building

Focus on child caught in crossfire
As the casualties and damage mount, so too have efforts to find a diplomatic solution, even as the war of words persists in earnest.
Diplomats hopscotched around the region, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He arrived in Cairo on Monday night, hours after Egypt's intelligence chief gave an Israeli delegation a letter from Hamas outlining its conditions for a cease-fire.
Israel has signaled it is open to such a scenario, but only if Gaza militants halt their rocket attacks.
"They can stop any suffering in one second," Israeli President Shimon Peres said. "Stop shooting and that's it."
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said a short-term "Band-Aid" solution won't do.
"We want to come out of this operation with a new situation in the southern part of Israel where our civilian population no longer has to fear an incoming rocket fired by Hamas in Gaza," he said. "If that can be achieved through diplomacy, that's good."
But Palestinian parliament member Mustafa Barghouti said Israel is to blame.
"There is room, in my opinion, for an agreement," Barghouti said. "... The problem is that Israel is using the bombardment of civilians and the killing of children as a tool of negotiations."
Palestinian health officials said 104 people, among them women and children, have died -- at least 24 on Monday. They also say 860 have been wounded in Gaza since Israel began its offensive in response to what Israel characterized as incessant rocket attacks by militants.
About half the nearly 1,000 rockets fired from Gaza since Wednesday have hit inside Israel, while about 300 have been intercepted by Israel's "Iron Dome" system and the rest landed inside Palestinian territory, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday. Three have been killed and 68 wounded, Israeli officials said.
The missile defense system intercepted several more rockets fired Monday at Ashkelon, the IDF said. But several rockets hit Eshkol, also in southern Israel, with one striking a closed school.
Israel carried out 80 strikes Monday, its military said. Since Wednesday, forces have targeted more than 1,300 the number of sites, such as government buildings, police stations, rocket-launching sites, suspected storage facilities and homes of Hamas officials.
A Gaza City stadium, where the IDF said Hamas militants launched rockets toward Israel three days ago, was among the sites hit on Monday.
Israeli forces also hit a Gaza City office building used by some media outlets -- as they had Sunday -- killing two, including the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's military media office.

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That strike targeted four senior Islamic Jihad members who Israel's military said were hiding in the building, including the information chief, Israel's military said. The others were described as key figures in military training, attack planning, long-range rocket operations and arms manufacturing within the same organization.
"We targeted only the second floor, which is where the senior terrorists were," the IDF said on Twitter, adding that reporters had been used as human shields. "The rest of the building was unharmed. Direct hit confirmed."
Despite the violence, a general in Egyptian intelligence involved in cease-fire talks expressed optimism to CNN on Monday that a deal to stop hostilities could be reached.
A senior Hamas official told CNN that sticking points include Israeli demands for a buffer zone and an end to arms smuggling.
Israel did not immediately confirm it received the letter, and no details of Hamas' proposal were immediately available.
Earlier, senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said Hamas is demanding that Israel stop the airstrikes and end its long blockade of Gaza.
Hamas wants Israel to stop targeting the leadership of Palestinian factions and to expand the waters Palestinian fishermen are allowed to trawl from three miles offshore to 30 miles. Shaath said the fishermen are regularly shot at by Israeli forces
Gaza has been under a crippling economic embargo since Hamas won control of the territory from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, after a landslide 2007 election followed by intra-Palestinian clashes. The United States, Israel and the European Union characterize the militant fundamentalist Islamic organization Hamas as a terrorist group.
In addition to Ban and the special Israeli delegation that traveled to Egypt on Monday, a steady stream of Arab League, U.N. and European diplomats are converging on the region to promote a cease-fire.
The fighting has challenged Israel's relationship with Egypt, which is trying to broker peace having recently undergone upheaval of its own. The Muslim Brotherhood-led government that took power in June has pledged to maintain Egypt's peace treaty with Israel -- the cornerstone of what peace has been achieved in the turbulent region -- but sympathy for the Palestinians runs deep among Egyptians.
On Monday, Peres praised Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's efforts to find a solution, saying he is playing a "constructive role."
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby and 16 foreign ministers from the league's member states were to arrive in Gaza on Tuesday, a spokesman for the organization said. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is expected to join them, a ministry spokesman said Monday.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, will hold talks in the West Bank with the U.N. secretary-general during his visit to the region, said Saeb Erakat, a member of the PLO's executive committee and an Abbas ally.
While the West Bank has been relatively quiet, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian protesters two days ago in the village of Nabi Saleh. On Monday, one man involved in that clash died from injuries he suffered after being hit by a live bullet, Ramallah Medical hospital director Ahmad Bitawi said.
Ban joins a growing chorus of Western and Arab diplomats calling for end to the crisis that has raised fears of a repeat of Israel's 2008 invasion of Gaza after a similar spate of rocket attacks. At least 1,400 people were killed in that conflict.
"This must stop," Ban said late Sunday.
Calls for a truce came on the heels of the single deadliest attack -- an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Sunday that left a family of 10 dead within the building's broken concrete and mangled metal.
Al Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military arm, called it a "massacre committed by Israeli occupation" on Twitter.
The Israeli airstrike targeted Yehya Bayaa, "a senior Hamas member," said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, the Israel Defense Forces' chief spokeswoman. The IDF alleges Bayaa is one of the leaders of a Hamas rocket-launching unit.
"When I say a senior Hamas member, I mean members that have Israeli blood on their hands -- members of Hamas that planned either the abduction of soldiers or are very much involved in targeting Israelis," Leibovich said.
The house was Bayaa's home and suspected command center, according to Leibovich. She said the Israeli military was examining video of the strike to look for signs of secondary explosions, an indication that there were explosives inside. Initially, the IDF reported it killed Bayaa in the attack. But late Sunday, Leibovich said she did not know for sure whether Bayaa had been killed.
On Monday, hundreds gathered at the al-Isra mosque for the funeral of some of the family members killed, CNN's Ben Wedeman reported.
The firing of rockets before and after the funeral didn't deter the mourners.
"Revenge, revenge," some of them chanted.
CNN's Sara Sidner and Arwa Damon reported from Gaza City; CNN's Chelsea J. Carter reported from Atlanta; CNN's Ben Wedeman, Fred Pleitgen, Amir Ahmed, Jessica Yellin and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.

  • Nathan Brown: In Gaza violence, neither side has much to gain. So why can't they stop?
  • He says both sides want to show strength, deny the other a win to help their domestic politics
  • He says Hamas wants to send message it can't be ignored; still fighting will likely abate
  • Brown: U.S. "peace process" has wished away Hamas but must deal with reality of what is
Editor's note: Nathan J. Brown is professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is author of six books on Middle East politics, the most recent of which is "When Victory is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics" (Cornell University Press, 2012).
The outbreak of violence between Israel and the Hamas-controlled "statelet" of Gaza serves no end. Both sides know that, yet they plunge ahead anyway, claiming that they are forced by their adversary to escalate the conflict.
Most experts agree that eventually the fighting will stop and leave the situation unchanged. The only question is the number of victims. If neither side has much to gain, why can't they stop themselves?
Each side suspects the other of playing domestic politics. Palestinians fear that the Israeli government is making war with an eye to upcoming elections. Israelis suspect that Hamas -- whose full name is the "Islamic Resistance Movement" -- is lobbing rockets because it is tired of its rivals' taunting that it is not living up to its middle name.
Nathan J. Brown
Nathan J. Brown
There is some truth to these charges, but the deeper motivations have to do less with pleasing the home crowd and more with frightening and deterring the other side.
Both sides would love to have their adversary disappear but know they cannot make that happen any time soon, so for now they each have more limited goals.
The Israelis know that they cannot dislodge Hamas from Gaza without unacceptable cost and endless occupation. But they want to punish the movement so severely that it will be deterred from future violence. Hamas knows that the damage it inflicts serves no strategic value, but it hopes that its rockets will cause dislocation and even panic in Israel and send an international message that Gaza cannot be ignored.
So the fighting likely will be contained in the end. In addition to civilian casualties on both sides (with the toll much heavier in Gaza, since Israel is the much stronger party), there will be substantial political damage, as well. The United States will be regarded in the Arab world as complicit in the Israeli offensive. And Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel but whose population sympathizes with Hamas, will feel badly embarrassed by its apparent powerlessness.
Massive explosion in Gaza City
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Egypt's role in Gaza-Israel conflict
Barrage of bombs, rockets
But the real blame on international actors -- including the United States and Egypt -- falls not on their actions during this crisis, but on their long inaction before.
The United States under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama supported a harsh blockade on Gaza and pretended that the Israeli-Palestinian issue could be dealt with as if Hamas does not exist and Gaza does not matter. Under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt quietly supported that position. Under Muhammad Morsy, Egypt's new president from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is no longer quiet or supportive, but it has only been able to wield rhetorical tools.
Egypt (which now tilts toward Hamas) and the United States (which supports Israel) can, if they cooperate, probably bring about a ceasefire. What they do afterward is the real question.
There is no clear path forward for international diplomacy, but it is quite obvious what does not work: Waiting for Hamas to go away. In a visit to Gaza last May, I saw how thoroughly Hamas has come to dominate politics and society in the tiny but crowded enclave. The movement runs ministries, polices the streets and manages the economy. Gaza residents see no alternative to Hamas, nor are they asked for one, with elections canceled and opposition closely monitored.
As the Obama administration moves into its second term, it makes more sense to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that really exists rather than to pretend that there still is a "peace process" that only needs one more round of quiet talks to succeed.
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