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Gaza Strip

Tipping Point: Hamas Ends Truce After Israeli Strike

By Steve Schippert | June 10, 2006

The first news reports read Israel Navy shelling Kassam launch sites in Gaza. A BBC account from an eyewitness immediately concluded as such saying, "It was a terrible scene, with blood everywhere. We could see a gunship in middle of sea, so we knew what had happened."

However, Israeli Defense Forces said that there were no naval or air fire at the time of the incident, leaving ground artillery as the source. A suspension of all artillery fire was ordered by IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and Israel’s southern commander, Major General Yoav Galant, said, "I express deep regret over the fact that uninvolved persons have been hit. We shall try to find a way to ensure not to harm the uninvolved."

carstrikeprc20060609.jpgThe IDF said that it “regrets any harm caused to innocent civilians," and offered medical assistance and evacuation. It said, however, that the strikes in the area were a continuation of its efforts to respond to and stop the wave of Kassam rocket attacks. Just hours before the beach incident, an Israeli airstrike was called nearby as members of the Popular Resistance Committees attempted to fire Kassam rockets into Israel. Their car was struck by a missile as they fled and secondary explosions indicated that the car was loaded with explosives when struck.

From the air, ground or sea, seven civilians on the beach were killed, including three children. A Palestinian video published by the BBC shows the aftermath on the Gaza beach. The incident has perhaps served as an unexpected unifying force, as both Fatah and Hamas immediately acknowledged their common enemy.

Hamas immediately declared the end of their informal truce with Israel, which had been largely recognized for over a year, though increasingly many believe Hamas has been using the Popular Resistance Committees as their proxy attacking force. In a leaflet later distributed by Hamas, renewed open warfare with Israel was declared imminent. It reportedly read in part, "The earthquake in the Zionist towns will start again and the aggressors will have no choice but to prepare their coffins or their luggage. The resistance groups ... will choose the proper place and time for the tough, strong and unique response."

The reference to a “unique response” stands out. Hamas and Fatah both have been stockpiling weapons since the Israeli pullout from Gaza, especially since the rise in internal tensions between the two factions, presumably in preparation for conflict amongst themselves primarily. That now is likely to change.

Many believe that Hamas' observance of the cease-fire with Israel has been primarily to both give them international political credibility leading into the 2006 Palestinian elections and also to build up its forces free from the duress of battle. Israeli officials believe Hamas has been preparing for large-scale attacks. To that end, the commander of Hamas' military wing, Abu Abdullah, recently in fact said in an interview with Aaron Klein, "In the last 15 months, even though the fighters of Hamas kept the cease-fire, we did not stop making important advancements and professional training on the military level. In the future, after Hamas is obliged to stop the cease-fire, the world shall see our new military capabilities."

Today, Hamas clearly felt obliged to stop the cease-fire, and the reference to a “unique response” in their announcement indicates a degree of confidence in these new abilities.

abbashaniyeh.jpgFatah has been long pre-occupied with their own violent internal political conflict with Hamas over negotiations with Israel and creating a two-state solution. It should be noted that Fatah’s military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, has been largely and uncharacteristically quiet for weeks.

But today’s incident on the Gaza beach evoked a strident response from Fatah’s leader, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian president condemned the attack as a 'bloody massacre', saying in a news conference, "What the Israeli occupation forces are doing in the Gaza Strip constitutes a war of extermination and bloody massacres against our people."

The ill-advised Israeli artillery strikes on the Gaza beach seem to have served to minimize the angry internal differences between Fatah and Hamas, serving to galvanize them at least for the moment. The degree to which the sands have shifted will be more clearly visible over the next 48 hours, largely determined by the actions of Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’ reaction to them as well as that of the Palestinian general population. If Abbas smoothes the edge of his words over the next few days and the Palestinian population rejects them, he may feel compelled to maintain the rhetoric of a “war of extermination.”

But, in what must come as a relief to Israelis, Abbas has since announced that he still plans to announce the referendum date on Saturday, which has been expected to be June 31. If he backs that date up any considerable amount of time, that will give Hamas more time to stoke the angry call for war and revenge. This would be violent bad news for Israel if successful and would put the two-state referendum outcome in peril, which both Abbas and Israel have expected and Hamas has feared will pass. According to a poll by the Arabic Media Internet Network, 77% will vote (YES) to the (Prisoners’ Declaration), while 14% will vote (NO).

The next 48 hours will be the most important for the region and the conflict since the Hamas electoral victory in January 2006, perhaps even more so.

Gaza Strip

5 Comments

What if the beach explosion was not Israeli but an IED gone bad? A convenient excuse for abandonment of referendum plans?

There's talk of that.

However, the Israelis have not denied it and in fact have made statements of regret, though short of apology. If the Israelis had not fired anything at that beach, they would have said so within minutes.

I will say that it should be noted that the Israelis offered regret, which I believe to be quite sincere. It is not their practice to fire knowingly on picnicking families. The same cannot be said for those who fire Kassams into villages daily, or blow up restaurants and buses filled with non-combatants.

Nor do they offer regret.

They reload.

It appears that Israel has stepped up it's response to the rocket attacks from Gaza. This may be a ploy to thwart the Abbas referendum. At this point Israel is focused on a fait accompli by defining unilateral boundaries, creating a "Fortress Israel" for itself while allowing the Fatah-Hamas confrontation to brew. Israel knows that the Palestinians have nothing to lose with negotiations restarted because the Palestinians will always have on the table what they refused before as a starting point.

On the other hand, Israel knows that it can never offer less and will be forced to make futher compromises and a restart of negotiations will see a tremendous world pressure on Israel to make major concessions something they do not want to do!

Re: Blackspeare

Is it true that Israel can never offer less in negotiations? It seems the Iranians are under no such constraints. Doesn't it seem to be a lesson of history that those who claim more and more get more and more? Why doesn't Israel apply the lessons of appeasement in reverse? Perhaps escalating one's claims is the way to go. One can always back off later, since the dominant current worldview seems willing to give any nation a last chance. (North Korea, Darfur, Venezuela...)

Re: Claws Wits

"Is it true that Israel can never offer less in negotiations?"

I'm afraid it is. When you compare other world confrontations with the Israeli situation you are comparing apples and oranges. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is unique---it is the only instance of a territory being partitioned, by the UN, into two entities with eventual statehood as the goal for each. Israel knows that the pre 1967 borders are on the table and any serious "peace" proposal by the Palestinians and their handlers would bring those borders to the forefront. The US is in a Middle East quagmire, with Iraq and Iran, and needs a good result even if it means forcing Israel to return to the pre 1967 borders and Abbas knows that and that's why he's pushing to jump start negotiations by the referendum.