Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Israel/Gaza: Update--Hamas Refuses Egypt's Proposed Cease-Fire, Netanyahu Rightfully Fires Danny Danon

According to The Associated Press, Israel resumed its heavy bombardment of Gaza on Tuesday (July 15) and warned that Hamas "would pay the price" after the Islamic militant group rejected an Egyptian truce plan and instead unleashed more rocket barrages on Israel.

The Israeli military urged tens of thousands of residents of northern and eastern Gaza to leave their homes by Wednesday morning (July 16), presumable a prelude to air strikes.

Rocket fire killed an Israeli man Tuesday, the first Israeli fatality in eight days of fighting. In Gaza, 197 people were killed and close to 1,500 wounded thus far, Palestinian officials said, making it the deadliest Israel-Hamas confrontation in over five years.

Hamas does not consider Egypt's current rulers--who deposed a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo a year ago--to be fair brokers.

Hamas believes it has little to lose by continuing to fight, while a truce on unfavorable terms could further weaken its grip on the Gaza Strip, a territory it seized in 2007. Underscoring that position, Gaza militants fired more than 120 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel on Tuesday, during which Cairo had hoped for a de-escalation of hostilities.

Hamas' defiance prompted Israeli warnings. In an evening address aired live on TV, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that after Hamas' rejection of the truce, Israel had "no choice" but to respond more forcefully.

"Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision," he said. "When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire," the PM responded.

After holding its fire for six hours, the Israeli Air Force resumed its heavy bombardment of Gaza, launching 33 strikes from mid-afternoon, the military said. In all, Israeli aircraft struck close to 1,700 times since July 8, while Gaza militants fired more than 1,200 rockets at Israel.

COMMENT: Israel has warned it might send troops into Gaza and has massed thousands of soldiers on the border. However, entering Gaza would likely drive up casualties on both sides. Israel has hesitated in the past to embark on ground operations for fear of getting entangled in the densely populated territory of 1.7 million.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Israel has the right to defend itself, but that "no one wants to see a ground war."

Palestinian officials said the Egyptian plan offered no tangible achievements, particularly on easing the border blockade that has been enforced by Israel and Egypt to varying degrees since 2007. Egypt tightened the closure in the past year by shutting down smuggling tunnels that were crucial for Gaza's economy, pushing Hamas into a severe financial crisis.

Netanyahu is under a lot of pressure from hawks in his Cabinet and the ruling Likud Party to launch a ground offensive to put an end to the rocket attacks. He faced blistering criticism from the right over initially agreeing to the Egyptian truce plan.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, fired Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, one of his fiercest critics who didn't tone down his rhetoric during the offensive. Netanyahu said that by attacking the government at a time of war, Danon played into the hands of Hamas.