Israel launches new air strikes on Gaza
ISRAELI forces launched fresh air strikes on the Gaza Strip yesterday as deep divisions grew within the country's leadership over how to deal with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Israeli air strikes killed eight Palestinians in Gaza last week, including a militant whose car was struck on Thursday while he was on a mission to fire rockets. Troops also set up a new artillery position overlooking the strip as a further warning to militants to cease fire.
But Israel's vice-premier, Shimon Peres, warned yesterday it would be a serious mistake to sideline Abbas, signalling growing disagreement within the Israeli government over how to deal with the Palestinian leader.
Peres spoke after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced he would shun Abbas until he cracks down on militants, and after defence minister Shaul Mofaz told an Israeli newspaper that Abbas is too weak and isolated to negotiate a peace deal.
The Sharon government's criticism of Abbas is unprecedented, but it remains unclear whether it signals a shift in policy.
The international community has urged Israel to work with Abbas, a moderate who opposes violence but who also refuses to disarm militant groups by force, citing fear of civil war.
Peres said Israel could not afford to marginalise Abbas. "When you say there is no partner, then only one partner is left: the terrorists. This is a mistake of the first order."
Palestinian officials have also deemed Mofaz's comments as a "dangerous development" as the two sides attempt to restart negotiations.
"It's ironic that just one year has passed since the death of President Arafat, who was also deemed as not a partner for peace, and now it appears the Israelis have the same problem with Mahmoud Abbas," Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian's senior negotiator, told Scotland on Sunday.
"It seems any Palestinian who opposes Israeli settlements and the construction of the wall is automatically branded as a non-partner for peace, whereas let us not forget the real problem is the Israeli occupation," he said.
Erekat said dates for crucial committee meetings between the two sides on issues such as Gaza border security and the movement of goods between the West Bank and Gaza had not yet been set.
The air strikes took place early yesterday in the northern Gaza Strip, when 14 missiles were fired into open areas and access roads the Israelis said were used by Palestinian militants to launch rocket attacks.
Water and sewage lines were heavily damaged and electricity in the area was knocked out after the main transformer was hit. One of the missiles tore a deep crater into a sandy field.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian interior minister yesterday announced a crackdown on armed groups by saying he would deal "firmly and seriously" with illegal weapon manufacturing workshops and storage sites.
Nasser Youssef issued a statement condemning the Israeli raids and urged "an immediate international intervention" to stop them, but he also called on militants to adhere to an eight-month truce.
The air strikes came after a week of worsening violence, beginning with Israel's killing of senior Islamic Jihad operative Luay Sa'di on Monday. This was followed two days later by a suicide bombing, claimed by Islamic Jihad, in the Israeli coastal town of Hadera, which killed five people and injured 20 others.
Stepping up its military campaign in the wake of the Hadera bombing, Israel on Thursday killed a local Islamic Jihad leader, Shadi Muhana, by firing rockets at his car outside the Jabaliya refugee camp situated near Gaza City. Six other Palestinians were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, and another 12 were injured during the attack.
In retaliation, militants fired a series of mortars from Gaza towards the Erez border crossing and Israel, but caused little damage.
The ongoing violence has once more dashed any hopes of peace in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last month, with militant groups - including Hamas - declaring that Israel will be made to pay "a heavy price" for the air strikes.
Abbas is also facing deep divisions within his Fatah party after last week refusing to reshuffle his cabinet before the January 25 Palestinian elections next year.
His decision has angered many Fatah members, who demanded earlier this month that he form a new cabinet to put an end to the growing state of anarchy in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.
The Palestinian leader's next test will be when Fatah is due to hold its primaries - establishing who will run as a Fatah candidate in the January elections - on November 8.
Dr Ali Jarbawi, a professor in political science at Birzeit University in the West Bank, said that the coming weeks will be crucial for Abbas as he fights a rearguard action from within Fatah while ensuring the candidate selection process goes smoothly.
"Fatah is like a puzzle of 2,000 pieces and the glue that held it together was Arafat," said Jarbawi.
"Now it's no longer the case, and it's not just the old guard versus the new but those in West Bank and those in Gaza, the Palestinians living outside of Palestine and those living here, towns versus villages and so on."
He said Abbas was pinning all of his hopes on the January elections "as his saviour because it will be through these elections, he wants to incorporate all of the factions within the political framework, making them more responsible while also straightening out Fatah itself."
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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