Since Hamas decided to end the calm  on 19 December, there has been a marked deterioration of the situation in southern Israel.

 Behind the Headlines: Rockets rain down on southern Israel


Rockets strike southern Israel on December 24, 2008 (Photos: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye)

The Israeli civilians living near the Gaza border have been the targets of Hamas rocket and mortar attacks for years, despite the fact that Israel disengaged from Gaza more than three years ago. The situation improved somewhat during the state of calm that began in June of this year. However, since Hamas decided to end the calm last Friday (19 December), there has been a marked deterioration. Dozens of Kassam rockets are now raining down on Israel on a daily basis. Hamas is launching the longer-range and deadlier Grad Kaytusha rockets at the southern resort city of Ashkelon and is threatening to carry out suicide bombings in Israel.

The lives of the citizens of southern Israel are threatened with each launch. More than a hundred thousand Israelis are trying to celebrate the eight-day festival of Hannukah, as well as to carry on with their normal day-to-day activities, only to be interrupted time and again by the warning sirens of an incoming missile. They have only a few seconds to try to find cover, to pray that this time the rocket won’t explode in a house, a school or a crowded supermarket. A whole generation of children is growing up in fear, dreading the next attack that could cut short their young lives, as has happened to too many of their neighbors.

Hamas, and Hamas alone, is responsible for the escalating violence. Israel hopes that this terrorist organization, and the other organizations it can control, will cease their violent attacks on Israeli citizens, to the benefit of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Israel has no interest in conducting military operations in the Gaza Strip, but it is clear that the current situation, in which Israeli civilians are being targeted around the clock, cannot continue indefinitely. The residents of the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon, as well as the towns and villages in ballistic range of the Gaza Strip, cannot be held hostage forever to the radical fundamentalist agenda of Hamas.

The government of Israel has the right – indeed, the duty – to protect its citizens. This is one of the most basic responsibilities of every democratic government, and Israel is no different.

Moreover, it is not only Israeli civilians who are being held hostage; so too are those Palestinian residents of Gaza who wanted the calm to continue. Hamas and other terror organizations are firing from within populated areas, exposing Palestinian civilians to danger. It cannot be emphasized enough that absolute responsibility for any injuries to such civilians lies solely with Hamas. Hamas is willing to pay with the blood of Palestinian civilians in order to advance their own narrow interests.
Hamas is also willing to sacrifice the well-being of all the residents of Gaza. Israel does not want a humanitarian crisis to develop in Gaza and will continue to supply food, medications and electricity to Gaza’s residents, as the situation allows. But the ability to supply these necessities depends on the conditions on the ground, as created by Hamas.

The violent attacks being carried out on Israel impair efforts to reach a peaceful resolution of the disputed issues between Israel and the Palestinians, harming the political aspirations of the Palestinians.

The situation created by the continuous mortar bomb and rocket attacks on Israel proves once again the necessity of isolating the Hamas terrorist organization. International pressure must be placed on Hamas, so that it stops its violent attacks and accepts the three conditions laid out by the international community. Hamas is part of the international Jihadist movement and it is the responsibility of Israel, and the international community to strive to prevent Hamas from realizing its nefarious goals.

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Selected statements

PM Olmert to Cabinet (21 Dec): "Last June, we decided on the calm agreement… The calm could exist only as long as it was administered by both sides and not with one side relentlessly launching Kassams and mortars… The State of Israel will know when to respond correctly and with the necessary responsibility."

FM Livni (22 Dec): "We cannot accept a situation in which Hamas continues to attack Israeli civilians in cities and communities within Israeli sovereign territory."

President Peres in Sderot (Dec 24): "In Gaza they light rockets, and in Sderot we light candles… To the Palestinians I say – we do not want to see you suffering on account of Hamas’s guilt. The moment that you stop firing rockets at us, there will be quiet in Gaza and the crossings will be open."

FM Livni to Egyptian Pres Mubarak (Dec 25): "Hamas needs to understand that Israel’s basic desire to live in a tranquil region doesn’t mean that Israel is willing to accept ongoing shooting at its population."

Diary of events

On Friday morning (19 Dec), the Hamas Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades officially declared that the six-month calm was over. Three rockets fired from northern Gaza Strip landed in open areas in southern Israel, and Palestinians fired at farmers working in kibbutz fields. More than 40 rockets and mortars were fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip over the weekend.
Palestinian terrorists fired over 20 Kassam rockets and mortars into Israel on Sunday (21 Dec), one damaging a house in Sderot. A foreign worker on a kibbutz was lightly injured from shrapnel from a mortar bomb.

On Tuesday (Dec 23) an IDF patrol killed three terrorists intending to plant an explosive device along the security fence on the border with Gaza near Netiv Ha’asara.

Over 60 rockets and mortar bombs were fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip between Tuesday night and Wednesday (23-24 Dec), including 7 rockets at Ashkelon, among them Grad-type missiles, and 5 at Netivot – one exploding outside a local community center which was full of children enjoying Hanukkah activities. Although no injuries were reported, about 60 people were treated for shock and several homes suffered direct hits. 
– Ynet – Rocket fire leads to close calls: Lives of three children saved as Grad missile fired from northern Gaza hit their home.

DM Barak (24 Dec) canceled plans to allow food and medicine to enter the Gaza Strip after the crossings had been closed due to ongoing rocket fire from Gaza. Trucks from Egypt and international relief organizations had been scheduled to cross into Gaza on Wednesday.

 Behind the Headlines: Rockets rain down on southern Israel

Rockets strike southern Israel on December 24, 2008
(Photos: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye)
– Hanukkah menorah stands in home damaged by rocket
– Rocket removed from the lawn of a home in Ashkelon
– Home damaged by rocket in southern Israel
– Kibbutz teenager looks at debris and shrapnel from Kassam rocket that came through the roof and landed on her bed
– Frightened children suffer from shock after house hit in Ashkelon

Dec 25: A mortar shell fired at the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip hit the crossing hall’s ceiling, not far from a group of 150 Palestinian pilgrims making their way to Bethlehem and several patients headed to Israeli hospitals for medical treatment.
Despite the closing of the Gaza crossings for the transfer of goods due to ongoing rocket and mortar fire, the Erez crossing remains open for medical and humanitarian cases.