Why is Israel's army attacking targets in the Gaza Strip?
The Israeli army aims to stop a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza and to weaken the radical Islamic group Hamas. In the early morning hours on Tuesday (08.07.2014), the armed forces attacked about 50 sites in the Gaza Strip, apparently including homes of militant Hamas members. The Air Force also fired at rocket launching pads and training camps, a spokesman said. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 11 Palestinians were killed and 80 injured.
Earlier, Hamas took responsibility for the rocket attacks from Gaza. On Montag (07.07.2014), the group fired dozens of rockets at Israel. The Israeli military lists about 80 rockets that hit Israeli territory up to 80 kilometers inland – further than ever before in the present conflict.
These are the worst tensions since 2012, when Israel and Hamas fought an eight-day war.
What triggered the current tensions?
On June 12, 2014, three young Israelis were kidnapped near the West Bank city of Hebron. Their bodies were found two weeks later under a pile of rocks in a field near Hebron. The Israeli army blamed Hamas for the kidnapping and launched a massive search and rescue operation, during which six Palestinians were killed. About 420 Palestinians were detained, most of them members of Hamas. Last Wednesday (02.07.2014), a Palestinian teenager was killed near Jerusalem - apparently an act of revenge. Six Jewish suspects have been apprehended in connection with the murder. Details have not been made public. According to media reports, three of the suspects have confessed to the brutal killing.
What is the political context?
Relations between the Israeli and Palestinian governments were strained even before the murder of the three teenagers. At the end of April, the leaders of Hamas and Fatah declared plans to jointly rule the Palestinian territories. On June 2, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in the new unity government. The transitional government of 17 ministers consists of experts who belong to neither the moderate Fatah, headed by Abbas, nor the radical Islamic Hamas.
At the same time, Abbas declared that the new government would recognize signed peace treaties with Israel. Israel criticized the government, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that Abbas could not simultaneously make peace with Israel and Hamas, which has called for the destruction of Israel. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, compared Netanyahu with the terrorist network Al-Qaeda.
Are we on the brink of escalating violence?
Israel has not ruled out a ground offensive in Gaza. "We are preparing for a battle against Hamas, which will not end within a few days," Defence Minister Mosche Yaalon said on Tuesday (08.07.2014).
Israeli authorities ordered residents who live close to Gaza to stay near public shelters and ordered holiday resorts to close. Israel will not tolerate rocket fire on Israeli cities, Yaalon declared, adding that the army is preparing to expand the operation with everything at Israel's disposal to strike Hamas. 1,500 reservists have already been enlisted. However, a ground assault doesn't appear to be imminent.
How is the international community reacting?
US President Barack Obama urged Israelis and Palestinians to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. "Peace is possible," Obama wrote in an op-ed for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Both parties must be willing to take risks for peace, he said. "When the political will exists to recommit to serious negotiations, the United States will be there, ready to do our part." Earlier, the President had condemned the "senseless" murders of the three Israeli youths and warned of taking steps that could further destabilize the situation.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned of spiraling violence in the Mideast. Of course, he said, Israel has "the right to protect its citizens from rocket attacks." He added that he hoped all parties recognize that "a military confrontation that is beyond control must be avoided."