Israeli reservists march toward Gaza City as Israel prepares to launch a new phase in its war on Hamas. (IDF)
Hamas wants a ceasefire that isn't really a ceasefire
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised address from his hiding spot in Gaza on Monday that he is ready to consider any ceasefire proposal that forces Israel to halt its offensive, but permits Hamas to continue attacking Israel.
Most media focused on the fact that the address was the first indication that the Hamas leadership is ready to throw in the towel in the current round of fighting.
Brushed aside was the fact that Haniyeh also insisted that any ceasefire must recognize Hamas' right to continue launching attacks against Israel.
"The intifada must continue because the occupation is continuing to kill," said the Hamas boss.
Haniyeh also indicated that he would only accept a ceasefire deal that gave the impression of a Hamas victory, and told the residents of Gaza that his group is "nearing victory over the Zionist war machine."
Hamas rejected an Egyptian-French ceasefire proposal last week because it called for the deployment of foreign troops in Gaza to ensure the terrorists did not start firing rockets at Israel again.
In related news, outgoing US President George W. Bush used his final press conference on Monday to reiterate that any Gaza ceasefire must begin with Hamas halting its rocket fire on southern Israel.
"I'm for a sustainable ceasefire. And a definition of a sustainable ceasefire is that Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel… The choice is Hamas' to make," stated the president.
Friedmann: Shalit must be included in ceasefire deal
Justice minister tours Sderot, says Israel must secure kidnapped IDF soldier's release in any future truce deal; stresses Israeli offensive in Gaza does not breach international law
|Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann said Tuesday that the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit must be a part of any ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.
"Shalit must be part of any truce and Israel must make sure any agreement assures his release,' said Friedmann during a tour of Sderot.
Israel, he said, "is determined to forge on with the operation for as long as it takes and until all the operational objectives have been met."
Commenting on recent reports suggesting Israel may face a slew of international lawsuits following Operation Cast Lead, Friedmann stressed that "Israel is upholding international law and has been exercising maximum ethics and humanism in its fighting in the Gaza Strip."
"War, any war – especially one in which Hamas is using civilians as human shields – poses difficulties; but when you compare Israel to other countries fighting terror, you can see just how considerate Israel is of the civilian population."
Meanwhile, Israel has made no clear statement as to whether it would demand Shalit's release as a prerequisite for any future ceasefire.
Hamas political bureau Deputy Chief, Moussa Abu-Marzouk told al-Jazeera Tuesday that the group is willing to accept the Egyptians truce initiative as long as the organization's reservations are taken into account.
As for Shalit, Marzouk was quoted as saying that "(Shalit) may be injured and he may be healthy. This question is of no interest to us anymore."
Barak: We respect the UN, but we're continuing with Gaza op
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday reiterated that the IDF was continuing its offensive in Gaza while simultaneously, the political echelons were closely monitoring diplomatic efforts to end the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Barak visits the Palmahim air force base on Tuesday.
In a meeting with IAF pilots and ground control teams at the Palmahim air force base, Barak said, "Yesterday, we heard, and we respect the calls of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and, of course, we are also monitoring developments on the Egyptian initiative, but the fighting goes on and the IDF is continuing to apply force."
Ban arrives in the region on Wednesday and is expected for talks in Israel on Thursday. He told reporters in New York on Monday that he planned to insist in diplomatic meetings with Israeli and Arab leaders this week that last week's Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza be "respected fully."
During Tuesday's visit to Palmahim, Barak was briefed on operations in Gaza, visited a squadron of attack helicopters and spoke with pilots and technicians.
"The operation is continuing on its eighteenth day with the aim of restoring quiet for southerners and curbing weapons smuggling," he said. "We are working on both these goals, with an eye on diplomatic initiatives."
Earlier Tuesday, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi expressed satisfaction with the army's action against Hamas.
"We have achieved exceptional results in damaging Hamas, its infrastructure and its military wing," Ashkenazi said during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in his Tel Aviv office.
Ashkenazi praised IDF troops, who, he said were "doing an extraordinary job," despite the fact that the operation was "very complicated."
The chief of staff said that Operation Cast Lead had so far succeeded in greatly reducing the total number of rockets fired at Israeli communities.
He reiterated that the army's aim was to bring about safety and security to southerners, and said that the armed forces were "acting in accordance with the plans of the army and the political echelon."
Ashkenazi also denied allegations that the army was using white phosphorous against Palestinian gunmen in Gaza.
"The IDF acts only in accordance with what is permitted by international law and does not use white phosphorous," Ashkenazi told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in response to a query by Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On.
The chief of staff went on to say that Hamas was booby-trapping Gaza homes with entire families inside, in order to set off explosives should IDF troops take control of the houses.
He said Israel was making every effort to avoid harming innocent people, but that Hamas was exploiting the weakness of its civilians.
Meanwhile, Army Radio reported Tuesday that Barak, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had decided against expanding the military campaign for the time being in order to give a chance to Egyptian-led diplomatic efforts to stop weapons smuggling. Jerusalem officials told the radio station that for the moment, the IDF had been ordered to increase the pressure on Hamas using pinpoint operations alone.
Livni said Tuesday that "there are indications that Hamas in Gaza is showing signs of distress, but the leadership in Damascus is sending out a different message."
Her comments came a day after Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh indicated that he was willing to consider a cease-fire initiative.
"There is a big gap between what we hear in closed sessions and what is being said in public," she emphasized.
Livni, who met members of the American Jewish Congress, added that the Gaza operation also served the interests of the Palestinian people and moderate regimes in the region.
Meanwhile, an IDF spokeswoman defended Operation Cast Lead in an interview with Sky News, emphasizing that despite diplomatic efforts to achieve a cease-fire, the military still had many more objectives to attain.
"Currently we don't see the end in sight," Maj. Avital Leibowitz said. "We have destroyed 70% of the tunnels" along the Philadelphi Corridor, but there are still more targets to hit."
Herb Keinon contributed to the report.
Jordanian soldier fires at Israel patrol
A Jordanian soldier fired at a Border Police patrol along the Israel-Jordan border on Tuesday morning, the IDF said.
Border Police forces returned fire.
There were no casualties in the incident, which took place near the Yitzhak Rabin Border Terminal in Eilat. The patrol jeep sustained minor damage.
Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement in 1994 and the border is usually quiet, but tensions are high in the region due to the IDF operation in Gaza.
There was a similar shooting incident Sunday along the Israel-Syria border, when gunshots were fired at an IDF vehicle.
The IDF said the vehicle was carrying civilians and soldiers who were conducting engineering work along the border. No one was hurt, though the vehicle sustained some damage and military sources said it was likely a lone Syrian gunman who decided to open fire at the force to protest against IDF operations in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, last Thursday, two people in a retirement home were lightly wounded when four Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon slammed into the northern city of Nahariya.
DEBKAfile's military sources reveal a secret war waged by the US, Israel and Egypt to shut down Iran's serpentine maritime routes through the Red Sea and Suez for refilling Hamas' depleted arsenal by sea. After Hamas lost an estimated 60 percent of its weapons stocks to Israeli bombardments, Iran enlisted Somali pirates to step up the flow of smuggled hardware to Gaza. Tehran is rearming the Palestinian Islamists at top speed to persuade them to carry on the war against Israel and not surrender to Egypt's ceasefire terms.
According to our military sources, the Iranian sealift is conducted along three routes:
1. The Iranian segment: Iranian freighters from the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas sail to the Gulf of Suez. Some are intercepted by the American warships patrolling the sea against Somali pirates. US Marines board the ships and confiscate any weapons cargoes in their holds. But not all are caught; some of the Iranian freighters, especially the small vessels, escape the anti-piracy net.
Western intelligence informants report that in the past week, Iranian agents hired Somali pirates to rendezvous with their freighters before they entered the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, offload the weapons and carry them in small Somali craft to Eritrea. The pirates have strong ties with Eritrea.
The Iranian freighters sail straight back to Bandar Abbas to reload.
2. The Eritrean route: Some of the Iranian arms freighters put into the Eritrean port of Assab to unload the cargoes, which are then consigned to Sudan, where the authorities turn a blind eye, for transit to southern Egypt. At that point, they are picked up by Egyptian smuggling gangs and carried by boat to Sinai shores.
3. The European route: The Balkan ports at Montenegro and Croatia are the starting points for freighters laden with containers carrying weapons for Hamas - mostly mortars and anti-air and anti-tank missiles. They head for the Suez Canal where they drop their cargoes overboard for waiting pirates' boats to collect.
DEBKAfile's military sources reveal that Iran's seaborne arms corridor to Hamas depends heavily on three Sinai Bedouin tribes: The Tarabin, which controls areas adjoining the Israeli and Gazan borders; the Tiyaha, which rule central Sinai; and the Azazmeh, whose wide spread covers northern Sinai, the Israeli Negev, Jordan and Syria. They form a human chain to relay the Iranian shipments, including heavy Grad rockets, into the Gaza Strip.
Hamas raids aid trucks, sells supplies
Hamas on Monday raided some 100 aid trucks that Israel had allowed into Gaza, stole their contents and sold them to the highest bidders.
The IDF said that since terminal activity is coordinated with UNRWA and the Red Cross, Israel could do nothing to prevent such raids, Israel Radio reported.
Between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the army had ceased all military activity in Gaza and once again established a "humanitarian corridor" to help facilitate the transfer of the supplies.
The Kerem Shalom and Karni crossings had been opened to allow in the aid trucks.
Security officials at Kerem Shalom thwarted an attempt to smuggle electrical goods, disguised as humanitarian supplies, into Gaza. The electrical goods included computers, infra-red cameras, ovens, microwaves and other electronic equipment.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has forbidden the entry of electronics to Gaza since the goods do not fall under the category of humanitarian aid. Some electronic equipment has been let in as per an official Palestinian request, such as equipment used to repair the damaged electrical grid inGaza.
Meanwhile, Israel is considering establishing a field hospital in the Gaza Strip to treat Palestinian civilians wounded in fighting between the IDF and Hamas.
The plan would be to establish the field hospital outside the Gaza Strip, but the IDF is also considering the possibility of erecting the hospital inside the Palestinian territory so it will be more accessible to the Palestinian population. It would be run by the IDF Medical Corps.
Also Monday, in an effort to promote Israeli humanitarian efforts in theGaza Strip, the Defense Ministry launched a new Web site that provides a live video feed of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing, through which international organizations have been transferring basic foods and medical supplies to Gaza.
The footage can be viewed here
Since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF has facilitated the transfer of close to 900 trucks into the Gaza Strip with over 20,000 tons of basic foods and medical supplies.
According to an army estimate on Monday, slightly over 900 Palestinians have been killed since Operation Cast Lead began in December 2008. Based on intelligence and information obtained by the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, the IDF has determined that at least 400 of those killed are known Hamas operatives. The IDF further believes that among the remaining 500, a significant number are also Hamas operatives.