(NEW YORK) MintPress – Wednesday’s air strike by the IDF on a car carrying the commander of the Hamas military wing in Gaza shattered hopes that a truce mediated by Egypt on Tuesday could pull the two sides back from the brink of war.
It came after five days of escalating Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes at militant targets, and made the commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, the most senior official of the Islamist group to be killed by the Israelis since their invasion of Gaza four years ago.
Within minutes of his assassination, the Israeli air force struck at selected targets in Gaza and the death toll there mounted quickly. The health ministry said six Hamas fighters and eight civilians, including a woman pregnant with twins, three infants and an 11-month old boy, the son of a BBC journalist, were also killed. Medics said roughly 130 people were wounded.
“They have been striking at buildings, homes and offices, and what we are seeing is lot of death and injury among women and children,” Brussels-based Palestinian activist Khalid Turaani told MintPress News in an interview from Amman, Jordan.
The numbers rose the following day after Israeli warplanes struck dozens of militant sites in Gaza.
Israel faced civilian casualties of its own after Hamas rockets killed three people when one hit an apartment building in a town 15 miles north of the enclave. Three others were wounded.
The Israeli army said 200 rockets had struck Israel since the start of the operation and that Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor had shot down at least 81 rockets headed toward residential areas.
Hamas claimed it had fired a one ton Iranian-made rocket at Israel’s commercial hub, Tel Aviv, but no impact was reported.
Amidst the escalation in hostilities, Israel’s Foreign Ministry warned foreign governments that a successful upcoming Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations could lead Israel to cancel the Oslo Peace Accord as well as, possibly, oust Mahmoud Abbas and dismantle his Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian allies, led by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, denounced the Israeli offensive. “The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region and would negatively and greatly impact the security of the region,” he said.
“Egypt is insulted because it brokered a truce and then Israel violated it,” says Turaani.
Cairo recalled its ambassador from Israel on Wednesday, although it does not appear to be taking any stronger action.
The new conflict will be the biggest test of Morsi’s commitment to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, which the West sees as the foundation of peace in the Middle East.
Morsi was elected as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has called for a “Day of Rage” in Arab capitals on Friday.
Iran, which supports and arms Hamas, condemned the Israeli assault as “organized terrorism,” while Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shiite militia, which has its own rockets aimed at Israel, denounced the offensive as “criminal aggression,” although it did not take military action.
Gaza has remained largely isolated from the rest of the world since it came under the control of Hamas after parliamentary elections in 2006.
The group has refused to accept the conditions set by the so-called Quartet on the Middle East, consisting of the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, that include renouncing violence, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and accepting previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Both Israel and Egypt imposed a strict economic embargo on the enclave after Hamas came to power, allowing in only basic supplies, although Israel eased the blockade in 2010 after a storm of international criticism over its killing of nine activists who were trying to break the siege.
That helped the economy to improve markedly in 2011, but a recent U.N. report found that 80 percent of Gaza households receive some form of assistance, 39 percent of the residents live below the poverty line and unemployment is at roughly 29 percent.
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting late Wednesday and called for a halt to the violence, but it took no action.
At the U.S. State Department, deputy spokesman Mark Toner said, “There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel.”
In France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabious maintained, “It would be a catastrophe if there is an escalation in the region. Israel has the right to security but it won’t achieve it through violence. The Palestinians also have the right to a state.”
Social media battles
While conflict between Israel and Hamas is hardly new, the rise of tools such as Twitter and Facebook has now allowed both sides to make their case to the entire world.
The Israeli forces took to social media almost immediately after the offensive began, making this the world’s first military campaign to be announced through Twitter, when the Israeli Defense Forces’ account, @IDFSpokesperson, tweeted news of “a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the #Gaza Strip, chief among them #Hamas & Islamic Jihad targets.”
Since then, it has been live-tweeting the incursion. Among the posts: “There are 2 main goals of this IDF operation: to protect Israeli civilians and to cripple the terrorist infrastructure in the #Gaza Strip” and “This IDF operation against terrorist orgs in #Gaza comes after a month of frequent rocket attacks against #Israel. idfblog.com/facts-figures/r...”
The IDF also tweeted a YouTube video of the assassination of al-Jabari: “In case you missed it – VIDEO – IDF Pinpoint Strike on Ahmed Jabari, Head of #Hamas Military Wing youtu.be/P6U2ZQ0EhN4 #PillarOfDefense.”
The footage has been viewed more than 700,000 times in less than 24 hours. The video was briefly removed for violating YouTube’s terms of service but later reinstated.
The official account for the Hamas military wing, @AlqassamBrigade, has also posted updates and responded to the Israeli army’s threat: “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)” and “Al Qassam Brigades shelling Israeli Nerim artillery site with 2 mortars #Gaza #GazaUnderAttack #Hamas#ShaleStones #Palestine #Islam.”
People on the ground in Gaza used Twitter to post live updates even after power had gone out, tweeting things such as “Electricity is off. #Gaza,” “More than ten strikes just in 5 mins!!! what is going on!#Gaza #PrayForGaza” and “You can burn up our mosques and our homes and our schools, but our spirit will never die. We will not go down in Gaza tonight #PrayForGaza.”