Seemingly to deflect attention from its documented war crimes in Gaza, Israel is accusing the Palestinian resistance in the Strip of using prohibited weapons, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Construction vehicles begin building a barrier some 50km north of the southern city of Eilat, to seal off part of the Jewish state's border with Egypt
From Rafah, at the southernmost point in the Gaza Strip, Mohamed Al-Hassan, 39, headed to a psychiatric health centre in Gaza City on Saturday with his daughter Arwa, aged seven. She appears to be suffering severe psychological stress after she woke up last week to the sound of massive explosions as Israeli military jets shelled farming areas near her district with bombs weighing more than one ton. Arwa's family home shook with every explosion and the windows shattered, causing the child to wet herself, suffer night frights, and be unable to concentrate. These are the same symptoms she suffered for over a year after the end of the war on Gaza, when her district was also targeted by Israeli bombers.
The shelling of several areas in Gaza goes hand in hand with an Israeli campaign to liquidate members of the Army of Islam, a small Islamic group that embraces the jihadist doctrine. Israel claims that the group plotted to kidnap Israeli and American tourists in Sinai. In early November, Israel assassinated Mohamed Al-Namnam, a leading figure in the group, and last week killed brothers Mohamed and Islam Yassin, prominent group members. Israel claimed that the three planned the kidnappings, and that it had received confirmed intelligence linking the Army of Islam with kidnapping plots. It stated that the group had set up headquarters in Sinai, claims Egyptian authorities vehemently denied.
What makes the Israeli accusations doubtful is the fact that kidnapping Israeli and American tourists in Sinai would require resources -- human and logistic as well as financial -- that are probably beyond the capabilities of a small and marginal Palestinian group such as Army of Islam. Secondly, Israel's killing of Palestinian group activists constitutes extrajudicial assassination and cannot constitute evidence of guilt.
For example, the Israeli army killed 18 members of Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's military wing, in 2001 and 2002, claiming that each one of those killed played a part in a bombing incident in Tel Aviv at the beginning of 2001 which left several Israelis dead. But does it make sense that all 18 were involved? During the last war on Gaza, Israel claimed that 80 per cent of those killed were active in the Palestinian resistance, but today the claim is known to be untrue, and that more than 80 per cent of those killed were civilians.
It is more likely that Israel is targeting the Army of Islam as part of Israel's security doctrine that asserts that assassinating the leaders of small groups will eliminate the groups, or greatly curtail their influence. Accordingly, in 1992 Israel killed Sheikh Hussein Musawi, the leader of Hizbullah, which at the time Israel viewed as a small group, saying that assassinating Musawi would certainly paralyse the group. It was proven wrong.
While there are deep disagreements between Hamas and jihadist groups in Gaza, including the Army of Islam, manifested in battles on the ground that killed tens of people, Israel alleges that Hamas leaders gave the Army of Islam a green light to carry out the kidnappings. Israel also charged Hamas with firing a Grad missile on the settlement of Ofakim, 30 kilometres east of Gaza, though the operation was the work of another Palestinian group.
It appears that Israel is proliferating its accusations against Hamas to prepare world opinion for another mass scale military operation against the Gaza Strip -- most prominently its claim that the Palestinians have launched phosphorous bombs against Jewish settlements near the Gaza Strip. In fact, only a handful of countries own such weapons, including Israel and the US who were quick to use white phosphorous in recent wars -- the US in Falluja in Iraq, and Israel during the last war on Gaza.
Regardless, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman advised Israel's representative at the UN to submit a complaint against the Palestinians for using "phosphorous bombs". Such efforts appear designed to shore up support for Israel's accusations against Hamas, to pave the way for a new military operation against Gaza. Israel's campaign strategy against Hamas has also focussed on charging that Gaza has become a foothold for Al-Qaeda, and that Hamas continues to test Israel by launching missiles. Hence, it is necessary to end Hamas's rule once and for all.
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said that Al-Qaeda is trying to establish itself in Gaza and to become "a destabilising factor". "I think stability in that region requires another Gaza -- not one ruled by Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaeda, and similar groups," asserted Meridor, who is also chief of intelligence and nuclear energy. He also threatened a new "unmerciful" war on the Gaza Strip, claiming that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were amassing weapons.
"Hamas took control of Gaza and expelled the Palestine Liberation Organisation [PLO] and began launching missiles at Israel," Meridor stated. "[Hamas], the Islamic Jihad and other groups continue to accrue arms every day," he added. He further charged that, "Iran is attempting to make Gaza another arm of Iran, as it did with Hizbullah." He continued that Egypt was doing well in preventing smuggling into Gaza via sea and underground tunnels, but that it had not stopped it completely.
Hamas has strongly denied that the Palestinian resistance has launched phosphorous missiles against targets inside Israel, asserting that these claims were "an attempt to cover up the horrendous crimes which Israel committed during the war on Gaza which were uncovered in the Goldstone Report."
Ismail Al-Ashqar, a leading figure in Hamas, argued that Israel's assertions that the Palestinian resistance possesses phosphorous bombs are no more than "empty lies". "Israel mixes issues to give the world the impression that there is a balance in strength between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian resistance." Al-Ashqar told Al-Ahram Weekly that "such lies will not convince the UN or international public opinion," which must hold Israeli generals and the occupation accountable for the gruesome crimes committed against unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip during the last war."
The Hamas leader denied Israeli assertions that Al-Qaeda is present in Gaza as "malicious Israeli propaganda", insisting that Al-Qaeda has no presence in Gaza. The only resistance groups operating in Gaza are "Palestinian resistance movements who are first and foremost concerned with defending their people." Al-Ashqar warned that such propaganda aims to justify new aggression against besieged Gaza.
Israel routinely has a list of accusations against Hamas ready to justify military action or war against the Gaza Strip whenever international, regional or Israeli domestic conditions allow it. Some Palestinians advise caution in playing into Israel's hands and being dragged into military confrontation with Israel. Tel Aviv's plan can be foiled, they suggest, if Palestinians come together on a joint national agenda to reach agreement and consensus.
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