Gaza Is Plunged Into War, Again
Palestinians gather around the morgue where Jabari's body was taken.
As night fell on Wednesday, Gaza was once again plunged into war as Israeli fighter jets hit a number of targets in the small strip of land. This came after the assassination of Hamas' military chief Ahmed Jabari in scenes resembling the Operation: Cast Lead, which killed 1500 civilians in 2008. Israel claims the assassination and subsequent air strikes, called "Operation Pillar of Defense", were in retaliation for a week of rocket attacks on Israeli territory by Hamas, who control the Gaza strip.
Jabari was killed alongside a passenger when their car was hit by an Israeli missile travelling through Gaza city. Israel's Shin Bet security services said in a statement, "Jabari was responsible for financing and directing military operations and attacks against Israel. His elimination today is a message to Hamas officials in Gaza that, if they continue promoting terrorism against Israel, they will be hurt."
BBC camreraman, Jihad Misharawi, carries his dead 11-month old son into hospital.
Israel's intended targets weren't the only victims. So far, 14 Palestinian civilians have been killed and over 100 are wounded. In an interview with BBC News 24, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, claimed that Israel's air attacks on Gaza were to "protect Israeli citizens from future rocket attacks and was done in the most humane way possible". Can bombing civilian areas with high-powered explosives ever be "humane"? When asked by the presenter about the anger of the civilian population in Gaza, he said that the anger should be "directed at Hamas as it was Hamas' fault for operating in civilian areas". Given that Hamas does not tolerate dissent, in this situation, Gazans have no friends.
Except, that is, for the Syrian regime, who rather ironically denounced "the barbaric Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza". Unfortunately the Syrians are a little tied up at the moment, so it looks unlikely that they're going to be swooping in to save the Gazans any time soon. Israel's neighbour, Egypt, has withdrawn its ambassador to Israel in protest at the assault, while the rest of the international community's response has been rather tame, with the UK calling for a vague restraint and the UN for a de-escalation from both sides.
Hamas are by no means the innocent party in this scenario; it knows what response it'll receive after consistently bombarding the south of Israel with Qassam rockets, which – even though they look like £10 fireworks compared to the weapons the Israelis use – can still kill. Since Jabari's assassination, Hamas has retaliated by firing even more rockets into Israel (133, at the last count) killing three civilians and wounding eight. With air strikes and naval fire continuing to batter Gaza, Israeli commanders threatening their opposite numbers in Hamas on Twitter and army reservists have been called up, suggesting a ground invasion could be imminent.
A wounded civilian recovers in hospital.
I spoke to Joe Catron, an American international solidarity activist living in Gaza, about the air strikes and the looming escalation of the conflict.
VICE: Could you briefly explain the backdrop to this assassination and why you think Israel carried it out?
Joe Catron: It's always difficult to speculate about motives, but I think the Netanyahu government is attempting to assert its regional dominance in response to a number of simultaneous challenges: the UN statehood bid, the loss by US presidential candidate Mitt Romney – who Netanyahu all but publicly backed – growing ties between the elected governments in Gaza and states across the Middle East, an apparent defeat of its drive for war against Iran and new military capabilities demonstrated by adversaries like Hezbollah.
What's happening right now? Are there still air strikes hitting Gaza?
Yes, air strikes have been ongoing continuously throughout the Gaza Strip since this afternoon. There have been dozens already, resulting in at least nine Palestinian deaths, including two young children.
Have there been any explosions near you?
Yes. This afternoon, I heard an explosion that I learned minutes later was Israel's assassination of al-Qassem Brigade's chief of staff Ahmed al-Jabari. I've also seen, heard and – in some cases – felt dozens of bombings since then.
There are rumours of a ground invasion, do you think that will happen and what would Israel's objective be if they sent in troops?
It's impossible to say at this point. I think Israel will obviously seek to minimise its own casualties and a protracted ground offensive would certainly work against its interests in that regard.
What are the targets of these subsequent air strikes?
Israel will, of course, claim that it's targeting military assets of the Palestinian resistance. Whether this is true or not, its concern for civilian casualties is obviously minimal. It's worth noting that the immediate exchange of hostilities began with Israel's killing of three Palestinian children playing football on two separate occasions.
Are they trying to eliminate the command and control structure of Hamas?
That's its public claim, yeah. As I said earlier, I suspect its true motives are varied.
Have Hamas been firing back?
Yes, along with other resistance factions. You can see Hamas' most recent actions on its Twitter.
The site of Jabari's assassination.
What about the response of the international community so far?
Foreign activists in Gaza are heartened by news of demonstrations against Israel's ongoing attacks in Amsterdam, Chicago, Dublin, London, Montreal, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington DC and elsewhere in the world. We hope supporters of Palestinian freedom will continue to mobilise for international law and human rights.
Are you going to stay in Gaza or try to evacuate?
Everyone I know will stay here.
Well, good luck Joe and keep your head down.
Photos by Anne Paq.