Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Israeli cabinet rejects the 12/30 French proposal for a 48-hr. humanitarian truce, complaining that it lacked a mechanism to guarantee enforcement. Damascusbased Hamas leader Khalid Mishal says Hamas will consider any cease-fire proposal that includes a lifting of Israel’s embargo, but in Gaza, Haniyeh states that Hamas would not consider any proposals until Israel halts its attacks and opens Gaza’s border crossings, including Rafah.

In a briefing to Olmert’s security cabinet, Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin states that Hamas’s weapons development facilities have been “completely wiped out” and “Hamas’s ability to govern Gaza has been significantly impaired.” Senior Israeli military sources speaking anonymously state that no major hardened targets remain standing but that Hamas’s military wing, the Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades (IQB), “has to a large extent survived the initial onslaught.”

The IDF continues to mass troops and tanks on the Gaza border, stating explicitly for the 1st time that a ground invasion is likely once wet weather clears. The security cabinet increases the number of reservists activated to more than 9,000.

Israeli actions: The IDF carries out some 60 air strikes, and the Israeli navy shells Gaza from the sea. Among the 66 sites hit by the IDF are Haniyeh’s office, the Tal al-Hawa Mosque in Gaza City (Israel claims it was used as a weapons depot), a major Islamic Jihad weapons depot in Khan Yunis (killing senior Islamic Jihad military cmdr. Amar Abu Ghalula, 3 other Islamic Jihad mbrs.), more tunnels on the Rafah border, at least 8 homes, 1 medical clinic, Hamas posts (including money exchanges). Target areas include Abasan, Bayt Hanun, Gaza City, Jabaliya r.c., Khan Yunis, Nussayrat r.c., Rafah. The estimated Palestinian toll reaches 393 dead, more than 1,900 wounded.

The IDF claims to have destroyed 200 smuggling tunnels since 12/27; a Palestinian source in Rafah says the Israelis seem to know which tunnels are commercial and which are used by Hamas, and have been selectively targeting Hamas tunnels.

Palestinian actions: Palestinians fire 49 rockets, 15 mortars into Israel, causing no serious injuries; 4 longer-range rockets land in Beersheba, 25 mi. n. of the Gaza border, 1 of which hits an empty school, causing significant damage to 1 room.

Humanitarian notes: Israel allows 93 truckloads of food, medicine into Gaza. UNRWA issues a $34-m. emergency appeal for additional food, medical, and reconstruction aid for Gaza in the wake of OCL; the appeal is in addition to a $275-m. emergency appeal for the West Bank and Gaza for 2009 issued earlier in the month. UNRWA Commissioner-Gen. Karen AbuZayd, warning of the dire conditions in Gaza (where she currently is based), states that for the first time in her 8 yrs. with UNRWA she has begun to see Palestinians begging on the streets of Gaza.

Of note: Residents in Egyptian Rafah report a heavy military, border police, and plain-clothed intelligence presence on the Egyptian side of the border, which Egypt has declared a closed military zone, preventing demonstrations, keeping journalists away, and preventing breeches of the Rafah border from either direction. (AFP, AP, BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Center, FT, IDF, IFM, JP, REU, UNIS, UNOSAT, XIN 12/31; IDF, JP, NYT, PCHR, WP, WT 1/1; WT 1/2; IDF, Sabah 1/3; WP 1/4; IFM, PCHR 1/8; NYT 1/11)

In the West Bank, observers report that Palestinian sympathy for Hamas is growing, even though overall public reaction to OCL has been muted, largely because PA security forces have been breaking up explicitly pro-Hamas demonstrations. The IDF conducts late-night arrest raids, house searches in and around Hebron, nr. Nablus. (PCHR, WP 1/1)