I woke up this morning to the following news:
JERUSALEM suffered its first bombing in seven years today when an explosive device hidden in a shopping bag blew up at a bus station during the rush hour, killing one woman and wounding 30.
…Shattered glass from the windows of the bus were strewn across the pavement, which was scorched and smeared with blood.
The attack comes after a fortnight of rising tensions in the Palestinian territories that culminated in a series of military strikes on Gaza.
The group believed to be behind the attack is the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Al-Qaeda affiliated group that takes a more militant stance than Hamas, which has been moderated recently by responsibility. The attack coincided with renewed rocket strikes and was probably in retaliation to a recent Israeli strike that took-out some PIJ leaders:
The attack which rocked the entrance to the capital on Wednesday morning came just hours after two Grad-model Katyusha rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in Beersheba and another hit south of Ashkelon.
…Islamic Jihad had vowed to retaliate against an air strike on Tuesday which killed four of its senior operatives.
This is an absolutely disgusting and inexcusable act, but there has been a whole build-up to this. I know that I’ve been MIA for a few days, but if I had more time to write, I would have been writing about the escalating tensions in this conflict.
Of course, Israel’s strike that killed four militants did not just kill four militants, unfortunately:
Eyewitnesses said that seven tank shells slammed a playground where children were playing soccer, adding two other shells crashed through the ceiling of a nearby house, injuring six women.
Relatives of those killed said they prevented a group of Palestinian militants from firing mortars into Israel from an area that is adjacent to their houses just half an hour before Israeli tanks fired the shells.
But militants waited until people went for prayers at the neighborhood’s mosque and sent a round of mortar shells beyond the Israel-Gaza borderline, which is a little less than half a mile away from the bombed area.
Although that story does not exactly exonerate PIJ from the killings either.
And then there’s the Itamar massacre on the weekend, which was a complete act of brutality that saw a family literally butchered in their own home:
On March 11, five members of the Fogel family were hideously knifed in their own home at Itamar – the parents Udi and Ruth, 11-year-old Yoav, three-year-old Elad and three-month-old Hadas. The throats of Udi, Yoav and tiny Hadas were slit in their beds. Elad suffered two stab wounds to his heart.
This was anything but a chance mishap.
This was premeditated, beyond cold-hearted.
The homicides were the handiwork of terrorists who encountered their blameless victims face-to-face and, with malice aforethought, did not shrink from piercing an infant’s neck.
The other piece of the puzzle from Israel’s perspective is a sudden and massive increase in rocket fire from Gaza.
Tuesday’s violence came amid a sharp increase in tensions along the Israel-Gaza border in recent days. Hamas has fired more than 60 rockets at Israel since Saturday, and Israeli warplanes and artillery units have carried out repeated attacks. Both sides claim they are retaliating and not seeking an escalation in the conflict, but fears of a repeat of the Israeli war here two years ago were palpable.
And there’s truth to that “tit-for-tat” statement, both sides have been escalating this situation whilst simultaneously calling for the other to stop. It’s like a retarded game of chicken where everyone loses.
Hamas has committed to keeping the truce, but admitted that it voluntarily increased rocket fire:
He confirmed that Hamas was behind last Saturday’s barrage of mortar attacks on Israel. He claimed that the attacks were a “natural response to the ongoing crimes of the Zionist enemy.”
Abu Obaida said that the attacks came in response to the recent killing by the IDF of Ghassan Abu Amer and Adnan Ishtawi, two Hamas activists.
“The enemy will pay a heavy price if it continues its aggression on the Gaza Strip,” the spokesman cautioned.
And then Israel has re-iterated that it will hold Hamas responsible for every attack:
The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers, and will continue to respond harshly to combat terror. The IDF holds the Hamas terrorist organization solely responsible for maintaining the calm in the Gaza Strip and for any terrorist activity emanating from it.
This may not be entirely fair, as it is not clear how much control Hamas has over PIJ. In fact, there have been reports that Hamas is trying to reduce their activity:
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s office said yesterday that Haniyeh had phoned the secretary general of Islamic Jihad, Abdallah Ramadan Salah, in Damascus. Pundits in Gaza said Haniyeh asked Salah to stop the escalation, for which Islamic Jihad is mainly responsible.
Although Hamas didn’t exactly seem bothered by the attack in Jerusalem, which luckily the PA at least condemned:
Referring to the possibility that Palestinians were behind the attack, Fayyad said it would it be despicable if any Palestinian party was involved, especially in light of the huge damage that such attacks have inflicted on the Palestinians in the past.
Hamas representatives in the Gaza Strip hailed the attack as a “natural response to Israeli crimes against Palestinians.”
The big worry here is that the situation will return to 2007/08 levels, which Israel managed to repair only through a huge military operation. Hopefulyl the sides will see sense, but this has been coming for a while.
There is a whole other side to the past week, which is the games being played between the PA and Hamas, as well as a few settlement issues that were overshadowed by all this violence. This post is getting too long, so you can look forward to that tomorrow.