Israel Goes After Hamas Commanders as It Vows to Press On
(Bloomberg) -- Israel intensified its attacks on high-ranking militant commanders in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as well as the group’s network of underground tunnels, as the onslaught entered its second week despite international calls for a halt.
The Israeli military reported that a top commander in Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second-largest militant group, was killed in heavy aerial and artillery attacks on Monday, which Israel characterized as strikes on terrorist infrastructure and weapons storage locations. Hamas continued to rain rocket fire on civilian targets in Israel.
The fighting and a steadily rising death toll are propelling efforts by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar to try to broker a cease-fire. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Copenhagen Monday that the Biden administration was “working around the clock through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to the conflict.”
Nearly 200 people have died in Gaza, 15 of them top commanders. In Israel, where the lethality of Palestinian rockets is tempered by a missile-defense system, 10 people have been killed.
“Our campaign against the terrorist organizations is continuing with full force,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, noting that Israeli warplanes have struck 1,500 targets in the Palestinian territory. The operation “will yet take time,” he added.
The fighting has complicated, if not destroyed, Israeli opposition efforts to form a government that would unseat Netanyahu after the fourth round of elections in March again yielded no clear victor. Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged influence-peddling, on Sunday pushed back against suggestions that he’s extending the conflict for his own political gain, calling it “preposterous” in an interview on CBS TV’s Face the Nation program.
The hostilities erupted after weeks of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in east Jerusalem, the holy city at the heart of conflicting sovereignty claims. The violence spilled over into deadly clashes inside Israel between Arab and Jewish citizens.
Israel seems intent on inflicting as much damage on Hamas as possible before ending the fighting, and has launched waves of strikes against cross-border tunnels designed for infiltration, rocket stockpiles, militant command centers, and a network of subterranean corridors within Gaza used for combat, transport, weapons storage and as hideouts.
Some of the attacks have taken place at refugee camps, hospitals and schools, where Israel accuses Hamas of using human shields to try to protect its military operations. Palestinians say many of the victims have been civilians.
Power supplies have been disrupted, with each side blaming the other for disabling power lines and plunging hundreds of thousands of people in the impoverished territory of more than 2 million people into darkness for hours a day.
Fuel supplies from Israel have been cut off, compromising power at hospitals, ambulance services, a desalination plant and municipal services, Gaza officials said. Egypt, which along with Israel has been blockading Gaza since 2007, has opened a crossing with it to allow in some of the wounded, Palestinian officials reported.
Last week, Israel leveled a high-rise housing media offices of The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and other news agencies. Media outlets have accused Israel of trying to stifle coverage of the war, and rejected Israel’s claim that Hamas intelligence agents were working in the building.
In Israel, daily life has been disrupted for millions of people, mostly in southern communities and central Israel, where thousands of air raid sirens have sent people scurrying repeatedly to seek sanctuary in bomb shelters or stairwells. Dozens of apartments have been damaged, and busy streets and beaches have often been emptied as people in rocket-scarred areas fear to venture outside.
According to the military, 3,150 rockets have been fired from Gaza, including 460 that fell short and landed inside the Palestinian territory, sometimes causing casualties there. It said the Iron Dome air defense system has intercepted about 90% of the rockets it’s targeted.
The Hamas group’s armed resistance has scored it points domestically, where it is seen as a more effectual fighter against Israel than the rival West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. After 16 years in power, Abbas has brought the Palestinians no closer to statehood.
“Their image was lifted dramatically,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister who teaches political science at Birzeit University near Ramallah. Abbas, whose term officially ended in late 2009, called off legislative elections scheduled for May in which Hamas stood to gain, if not win, according to polls.
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