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Monday, July 03, 2006

Palestine & Israeli positioning

Hamas decries Israeli missile attack on prime minister’s office

By Donald Macintyre

03 July 2006

Israel is expected to step up pressure on the Hamas leadership to secure the release of Cpl Gilad Shalit after launching a helicopter missile attack on the office of the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh.

The strike on Mr Haniyeh’s office – described as a “true criminal act” by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – was intended to reinforce Israel’s threat to target ministers until the corporal is released.

“No one will go unpunished,” Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, said yesterday. Mr Olmert also even appeared to hint at the possibility of troops moving into Gaza to snatch leading Hamas figures here, as it detained 63 Hamas ministers and parliamentarians in the West Bank last week. “I do not promise that the arrests of senior Hamas figures will take place only in Judea and Samaria [West Bank],” he told the cabinet.

The Defence Minister, Amir Peretz, said Israel would keep its forces in Gaza for a “very short” time, but Yuval Diskin, the head of the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, told ministers that the hostage crisis might take months to resolve, adding: “We have to take a deep breath … There is no magic solution.”

Israel has restored supplies of fuel, including diesel, petrol, kerosene and cooking gas, from the Nahal Oz depot outside Gaza, a move which diplomats attributed at least in part to US pressure, five days after cutting it off as part of its response to the kidnapping of Cpl Shalit, 19, last week. At the same time it reopened the Karni crossing into Gaza from Israel to some lorries carrying humanitarian and medical goods. Christer Nordal, the deputy director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said the agency was “very pleased” at the restoration of fuel supplies, which should go a long way to lifting the threat of a collapse of water, sewerage and medical services.

This had been threatened because of a lack of fuel to power emergency generators after the destruction of the six transformers at Gaza’s only power station. The fuel could also be used to mobilise generators to draw supplies from wells in the Nusseirat and Bureij refugee camps, which were cut off by a missile strike on a pipeline last week. But Mr Nordal said UNRWA had been “disappointed” at Israel’s refusal to let through 400 dry food and milk powder containers stranded at the port of Ashdod. And he warned the agency was fearful of a crisis posed by the displacement of up to 25,000 civilians if Israel carries out a full-scale ground incursion into northern Gaza.

There were no concrete signs that such an incursion was imminent last night. However, despite continued talk by Palestinian officials of “near deadlock” in diplomatic efforts to secure Cpl Shalit’s release, a ministerial colleague, Roni Bar-On, said Mr Olmert had presaged further air strikes and use of “sonic booms” by telling the Israeli cabinet that he had instructed the army “to make sure no one sleeps at night in Gaza”.

Late last night the army appeared to making good on that command, with an Israeli helicopter gunship firing a missile into a Gaza building said to be used by militants.

'The children wake up screaming. I am worried it will damage them'

Mahmoud Mughari speaks bluntly. “I normally wash and shower twice a day. Now I can only do it every four or five days. The children smell. We all smell. We are worried that this will cause diseases.”

Outside the home in central Gaza he and his own family share with his elderly parents, five married brothers and their children – 48 in all – Mr Mughari was describing the impact made by Israel’s air strikes in Gaza last week, one of which severed the water pipe serving this refugee camp of 57,000 people.

The first problem, Mr Mughari, says, is that power – which would normally be running, among much else, refrigeration and fans in the current 91F (33C) temperatures – has been cut from 24 hours a day to eight hours a day.

This is itself a function of Palestinian engineers reallocating some of the electricity half of Gaza takes from Israel to the other half previously dependent on the Gaza power station whose transformers were destroyed in Wednesday’s missile attack. The second is that water previously available two days out of three is now available for only four to five hours every third day. And the third is that the impossibility so far of ensuring electricity and water coincide makes it impossible to pump the water up to the roof tanks and provide a steady supply through the taps.

They have been storing their rationed supplies in two blue 250-litre barrels, saving most of it for drinking and – when it is possible – for cooking. And to escape the heat, he says, members of the family have started sleeping on mattresses on the pavement outside the house. The latest crisis has compounded the problems of the Mughari family ever since Hamas provoked an international economic blockade of the Palestinian Authority by winning last January’s election.

Mr Mughari, one of only two brothers working – the other three are unemployed tailors – has not received the £134-per-month salary for three months from the job creation scheme on which he works. While the family are eligible for UN food aid, he says their meat consumption has fallen from three or four times a week to once a fortnight. The family is also coming to terms with the resumption of the deliberate sonic booms, or “bombs”, generated by Israeli F-16s overflying Gaza, starting in the predawn hours. “The children wake up screaming and run into my room,” he says. “Some of them understand that this is just a very loud noise, but Mai, my four-year-old daughter, thinks it is a real bombardment. I am worried that it will affect them psychologically in the future.”

If the purpose of Israel’s military campaign so far is to secure a major shift in Palestinian public opinion, it does not appear to have worked. Flanked by his parents and many of his own and his brothers’ children, Mr Mughari says that even if there is an Israeli ground incursion: “We’ll take it even if it gets worse.” There are few overt signs of preparations by militants, but MrMughariadds:“If [theIsraelis] come here they will not get roses. There will be resistance.” He adds of Cpl Shalit’s abduction: “My personal opinion is that there should be a prison exchange.”

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