Mel Frykberg
Middle East Times
June 30, 2008 - 5:13pm

Last week, several days into the Gaza ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, a U.N. convoy and a delegation of humanitarian workers was trapped on the Gaza side of the Erez border crossing into Israel, along with this reporter.

Unbeknownst to the humanitarian workers, with whom this reporter was traveling, Islamic Jihad had fired a number of rockets into Israel from the area we had passed minutes earlier, the area of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip.

As is customary with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the enormous zeppelin balloon hovering above would have monitored our every move, transmitting live footage back to the military base from where retaliatory Israeli military operations are planned and conducted.

Oxfam, a British humanitarian organization, had placed a huge flag with its emblem on the car as it neared the border crossing; an added precaution due to the large number of guerilla operations launched from the area.

An Israeli military spokesman had informed Oxfam that any potential military strikes by the Israelis would be aborted if aid workers were spotted in the vicinity.

Following the Jihad missile attacks, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reacted with outrage.

"I am not interested who fired and who didn't fire at Israel," she told reporters. "It is a violation, and Israel needs to respond immediately, militarily, for every violation."

While the Western media covered the Palestinian's breach of the ceasefire extensively, the two assassinations of a top Islamic Jihad commander and a Hamas operative in the West Bank the previous day - both of whom were gunned down at close range - went largely unreported.

For the Palestinians, the dual killings are perceived as "provocative," and are most likely to incite revenge.

Islamic Jihad had stated unequivocally that it would respect the ceasefire, but in the event of an attack by Israel either in Gaza or the West Bank it would respond in kind.

For the Palestinian militant group the rocket attack was not technically a breach of the ceasefire as the truce only applies to Gaza and not the West Bank.

The United Nations had accused Israel of seven ceasefire violations and the Palestinians of one. Since then, however, the Palestinians have fired more rockets into Israel.

The Israeli daily Ynetnews reported that most of the offenses committed by the IDF involved farmers attempting to reach their land near the border fence.

According to the United Nations, on June 20 an IDF patrol shot at Palestinian farmers near the fence east of Rafah. The soldiers fired for 10 minutes in order to drive the farmers away, but no injuries were reported.

During the evening of the same day a similar incident was recorded, in which IDF forces shot at Palestinian farmers near the Maghazi refugee camp. Soldiers reportedly fired for five minutes, and no injuries were reported.

An hour later soldiers fired toward fisherman near the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya in an attempt to drive them away.

Early in June, 21 navy forces opened fire in the same area, and later the same morning forces fired toward Palestinians near the Maghazi refugee camp. No injuries were reported in either case.

"Seventy-year old Jamil al-Gahoul was injured from IDF fire two days later, when an army patrol opened fire on a group of Palestinians reportedly gathering wood near Beit Lahiya at 7 am," reported Ynetnews.

Little of this was covered by the Western media.

From the very beginning of the ceasefire, it appeared that both Hamas and the Israelis were either reading from different scripts, had basic comprehension problems or were being deliberately obtuse.

Israel stated categorically that any continuation of arms smuggling through the ubiquitous tunnels which link Gaza with Egypt's Sinai would be a violation of the ceasefire. Hamas responded that under no circumstances would the smuggling stop.

Hamas also argued that a continuation of the closure of Gaza's border crossing was in itself a major violation of the truce. The Israelis had intended to reopen the borders, but following the firing of more missiles at Israel they remained closed.

However, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, stated recently that his organization would move against any armed group that further attempts to violate the ceasefire with Israel, including members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Israel further claimed that the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was part and parcel of any ceasefire and said truce would be contingent there on. Hamas responded that Shalit's release was a separate issue tied in with a mutual exchange of prisoners between the two sides and had nothing to do with the truce.

The weary Egyptians, who have been rallying back and forth between the warring parties in an endeavor to unthread the spaghetti-like miscommunication, were in agreement with Hamas on this particular issue.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Daher, a spokesman from the U.N. World Health Organization told the Middle East Times that the health problems facing Gaza's water supply due to the Israeli embargo on fuel, electricity and vital spare parts, had not improved despite a slight easing of the blockade.

Monther Shoblak, the general manager of Gaza's Coast Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) told this newspaper that "a serious health crisis related to sewage-contaminated drinking water is still a major concern.

"However, Israel has allowed in more necessities related to the sewage and water infrastructure due to international pressure and if the blockade is eased and the border crossings are opened, I believe the situation will improve somewhat."

On Sunday Israel reopened Gaza's border crossings, while Hamas police arrested several members of Fatah for firing rockets at Israel, breathing some life back into the ceasefire.


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