Israel launches new attacks on Gaza

Renewed Israeli airstrikes and ground incursion into the densely populated Gaza Strip have resulted in at least 13 Palestinians, including three children, being killed and more than 44 injured.

On June 27, Israeli warplanes bombed Gaza City, while Israeli tanks, armoured bulldozers and troops invaded the Palestinian refugee camp of Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave on the Mediterranean coast in which 1.5 million people are packed into 360 square kilometres.

The Palestinian Maan news agency reported that same day that the Qassam Brigades, the militia affiliated to Hamas, and the Fatah-affiliated Buraq Army militia claimed to have been involved in armed clashes with the Israeli military in southern Gaza.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesperson for Hamas, told reporters that the two Israeli incursions followed a meeting of the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA) on June 26 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, at which they had discussed how to "strike against resistance" to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

On June 14, armed supporters of Hamas, which won a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament 18 months ago, took control of Gaza from the Fatah-dominated PA security forces loyal to Fatah leader and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas has claimed that its Gaza takeover was not against Fatah as such but Fatah members who were collaborating with the US and Israel to foment chaos in Gaza. This claim has been backed up by Fatah central committee member Hani al Hassan in a June 27 Aljazeera TV interview.

According to the June 28 Israel News website, Hassan said what had happened in the Gaza Strip last month was the defeat of the plans of US Army General Keith Dayton and his Fatah collaborators. Dayton was entrusted by US President George Bush to arm and train the Fatah-dominated PA security forces to attack Hamas.

Israel News observed that "Hassan's words severely discredit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab leaders' claims that the Gaza takeover was a coup against Palestinian democracy... Following the interview, which put a dent in Fatah's PR efforts, Fatah gunmen fired at al-Hassan's home. No one was injured, as al-Hassan was abroad for the interview."

Israel News reported that following his TV interview, Hassan was dismissed by Abbas from his post of senior PA presidential political adviser.

Within hours of Hamas's June 13 Gaza takeover, Abbas dismissed the Hamas-Fatah National Unity government headed by PM Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and appointed an emergency government that excluded Hamas. The PA security forces in the West Bank have since detained several hundred leading Hamas members.

Zuhri said on June 27: "So while Abbas is going after members of resistance groups in the West Bank, Israel is back with its continuous military incursions in the Gaza Strip."

That same day, the Israeli occupation forces conducted raids on several West Bank cities, including Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron, abducting Palestinian members of Fatah and Islamic Jihad.

At the June 24 Sharm el Sheikh summit, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert announced that Israel would gradually release to Abbas US$350 million out $700 million in Palestinian tax revenues withheld by Israel since Hamas won the parliamentary election in 2006. The withholding of these funds, along with the withholding of US and European Union aid, had starved the Hamas-led PA government of funds necessary to pay the PA's employees.

"Is Israel releasing the money for free? No. It is in return for Abbas destroying Hamas and the resistance", Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum told reporters.

According to the June 26 Haaretz, Olmert assured Abbas that Israel was not interested in punishing the Gazan population for supporting Hamas and that Israel was only interested in bring an end to the "suffering" of Gazans "through understanding and peacemaking".

In a June 26 article on the Electronic Intifada website, Nazareth-based, British journalist Jonathon Cook, wrote: "By engineering the destruction of the unity government, Israel and the US have ensured that there is no danger of a new Palestinian consensus emerging, one that might have cornered Israel into peace talks. A unity government might have found a formula offering Israel:
"* limited recognition inside the pre-1967 borders in return for recognition of a Palestinian state and the territorial integrity of the West Bank and Gaza;
"* a long-term ceasefire in return for Israel ending its campaign of constant violence and violations of Palestinian sovereignty;
"* and a commitment to honor past agreements in return for Israel's abiding by UN resolutions and accepting a just solution for the Palestinian refugees

"After decades of Israeli bad faith, and the growing rancor between Fatah and Hamas, the chances of them finding common ground on which to make such an offer, it must be admitted, would have been slight. But now they are non-existent.

"That is exactly how Israel wants it, because it has no interest in meaningful peace talks with the Palestinians or in a final agreement. It wants only to impose solutions that suit Israel's interests, which are securing the maximum amount of land for an exclusive Jewish state and leaving the Palestinians so weak and divided that they will never be able to mount a serious challenge to Israel's dictates."