Spotlight: Fresh tension erupts as Israeli PM vows cease-fire with Hamas

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-13 23:00:39|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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Photo taken on Nov. 13, 2018 in the southern Israeli city of Sderot shows damage caused by attack from Gaza. Mortars from Gaza hit a home in the western city of Sderot, causing no injuries, according to the medical services. (Xinhua/JINI)

by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- Months of tensions that have been boiling over between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip have resulted in a major escalation which began since Sunday after a botched Israeli military operation inside the territory.

Late Sunday night, Israeli special operations soldiers were exposed during an undercover mission inside the Gaza Strip. One senior Israeli officer and seven Palestinian militants were killed in the following battle.

Since then, hundreds of missiles have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel and the Israeli military responded with airstrikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

One civilian was killed in the rocket attacks in Israel, while tens of Israelis were injured. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 13 Palestinians have been killed, scores of others wounded.

According to Jonathan Conricus, the foreign media spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Hamas is believed to have an arsenal of approximately 20,000 rockets. Since Monday afternoon, 400 rockets and mortars have been fired towards Israel, signaling a possible protracted conflict.

The Israeli security cabinet, the body that can authorize a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip, is convening Tuesday morning. Israeli media speculated a decision to be taken to expand the military operation against the Gaza militants.

Just earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would make great efforts to avoid a war and reach a long-term cease-fire with Hamas. Qatar and Egypt have reportedly tried to broker such a deal. As the fire exchanges intensify, it seems the effort has failed.

"The two sides do not want war, but neither side wants to lose its deterrence, so they find themselves walking on the brink and this may lead to war," said Ronen Hoffman, member of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

Until now, Netanyahu has been determined to prevent the situation from further escalation, despite some criticism from both the residents of southern Israel and his security cabinet.

The last war fought between Israel and Hamas in 2014 had catastrophic impacts on Gaza, and also caused damage to central Israeli cities.

Over 2,000 Palestinian were killed, approximately half of whom were civilians. On the Israeli side, tens were killed, the majority of whom were soldiers who entered Gaza in a ground operation.

The Israeli military warned that Hamas would pay a heavy price if the rocket fire continues.

"Hamas is forcing this violence and bringing destruction upon the Gaza Strip, in spite of sincere and long term efforts that Israel and IDF have done in order to stabilize and improve conditions," said Conricus.

Gaza has been suffering from deteriorating humanitarian situation, including limited access to power and other basic supplies, due to a strict blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

The blockade began after Hamas forcefully took over control of the Gaza Strip. The militant organization does not recognize the existence of Israel and has repeatedly vowed to destroy it.

"Gaza has not recovered from the 2014 war and when things boil over, Hamas takes action against Israel," said Ronen Zeidel, an analyst with the Moshe Dayan Center at the Tel Aviv University. "The Israeli government finds itself between the need to deter Hamas and the need to keep the humanitarian situation in Gaza at a reasonable level."

Israel controls all the crossings for goods to enter the Gaza Strip and electricity supplies.

Various rounds of violence between Israel and Hamas have shown that there is no military solution to the complicated issue of Gaza, said experts.

"The Israeli government cannot change the situation in Israel's favor through a military operation," said Zeidel.

"Netanyahu feels strong enough politically to contain the situation," said Hoffman. "If at some point he feels weaker, he may choose a different course of action."

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