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Gaza Suffers Most Intense Bombardment of 18-Day Israeli Assault

StoryJanuary 13, 2009
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Residents of Gaza suffered the most intense bombardment of the eighteen-day war last night as Israeli warplanes carried out strikes throughout the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian death toll is now at least 930. More than 4,000 Palestinians have been injured. Thirteen Israelis have died over the past eighteen days. We speak with journalist Zaki Chehab, author of Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at Hamas. Residents of Gaza suffered the most intense bombardment of the eighteen-day war last night as Israeli warplanes carried out strikes throughout the Gaza Strip. Israeli tanks, supported by warplanes, have reportedly moved into several southern neighborhoods of Gaza City. The Palestinian death toll is now over 930. More than 4,000 Palestinians have been injured. Thirteen Israelis have died over the past eighteen days. Four of them, Israeli soldiers, died in friendly fire.

The United Nations estimates about 60,000 Palestinians have fled their homes, but many residents of Gaza have no place to go to seek refuge, because all the Gaza border crossings are closed.

On Monday, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning Israel for “grave violations.” The non-binding resolution said Israel’s attack had “resulted in massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people.”

Zaki Chehab is the political editor of the London-based Al Hayat

newspaper and the Arabic TV channel LBC. He is the author of Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement, joining us on the telephone from London.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Zaki Chehab, tell us how Hamas began and what it is that they are demanding now.

ZAKI CHEHAB: In fact, what — you know, as according to what Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s statement yesterday, the televised statement, he did ask that, you know, they would accept any agreement which would like, you know, put an end for the Israeli attack or invasion to Gaza Strip. But definitely, you know, Hamas and the other Palestinian factions definitely, you know, they want really something extremely clear.

As you know, there were like seven months ago a ceasefire which has been brokered between Israel and Hamas by Egypt. But unfortunately, Israel has not respected the agreement. They did not fulfill the commitments they made when they reached it, between [inaudible] stop at the border, the crossing points between Gaza and Egypt, between Gaza and — you know, that allow people to go to the West Bank, to stop targeting Palestinian activists. Hamas, the first few months of this ceasefire, have respected it fully, to the extent that they have arrested other Palestinian activists who were like, you know, in the process or tried to fire rocket attacks against southern Israel. So, particularly Hamas have respected the agreement.

The one who have not fulfilled their part is Israel, where Israel, by the end of November last year, have assassinated more than 30 percent activists. Really, you know, the failure of Israel to respect this commitment, the starvation of more than 760,000 Palestinians living in refugees’ camps in Gaza, as you heard it from UN officials or from non-governmental organizations, was extremely clear, and it really expressed the frustration of the Palestinians in Gaza, to the extent that Hamas found itself — you know, that’s why we have to respect the agreement. Israel have not respected it in the first place. So that’s why the firing of the rockets started from Gaza toward Israeli cities.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza? I’m looking at a piece that the Ha’aretz reporter Amira Hass wrote, oh, a couple of months ago, where the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was meeting with eleven European parliamentarians who sailed from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip to protest Israel’s naval blockade. Haniyeh told his guests Israel rejected his initiative. Clare Short, who served in the cabinet of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, asked Haniyeh to repeat his offer. He said the Hamas government had agreed to accept a Palestinian state that followed the '67 borders and to offer Israel a long-term truce if Israel recognized Palestinians' national rights.

ZAKI CHEHAB: In fact, in fact, before Ismail Haniyeh said this, Khaled Meshaal told President Jimmy Carter these things. It was extremely open. Even before these things, you know, we have to remind, I think, many in the world that, one, the talks between Fatah and Hamas took place in Saudi Arabia and Mecca, and it was at that time brokered by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. It was very clear Hamas have accepted all the agreements signed between the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel, which Israeli include, you know, the recognition of the state of Israel. Unfortunately, the West refused to take whatever Hamas pledges made at that time and which really led that, you know, more extreme elements within the movement have told the mothers, you know, “What we are getting out of this?” You know, there are others who have recognized the state of Israel. But still, thirteen years of negotiation, you know, have not really achieved Palestinian goals. Israel has not respected any of the agreements. So why we have to recognize the state of Israel? What is going to be price for such recognition?

I think, you know, what’s really needed at this stage, if you want to pressurize Hamas, if you want to get a clear commitment from them about recognizing the state of Israel, is that Israel has to come out and in the open in a very clear message by the United Nations or by, you know, some respected governments to tell the world that if Hamas recognizes state of Israel, if, however, they denounce what’s so-called terrorism and violence, you know, then Israel would be like in a year’s time, within a very specific time scale, would give the Palestinians an independent state, where they can live in dignity, have the right for freedom of movement and all sorts of things. That’s what’s really needed, you know.

You going into Gaza has not achieved anything. In spite of more than seventeen days of these continuous attacks, missiles are still being fired at the Israeli cities and is going to continue. And, you know, I consider it’s true that there’s the heavy fighting for the last seventeen days, but I can tell you Israel have made no achievement in the heavy-populated area. What they have been through is like, you know, very open space in the suburbs of Gaza, around Gaza, but, you know, they have not made a very specific achievement in any of the neighborhoods for the last days of heavy fighting.

So, particularly what really Hamas and other Palestinian factions are looking for is to see Israel coming close to these populated areas, because, as you know, these movements, these factions are guerrilla. They are fighting guerrilla force. They are not regular armies, so that we don’t expect them to face Israeli forces like, you know, somewhere in the open. So what really, you know, other Palestinian fighters are looking for is that the real battle, in my experience, has not started yet. You know, tomorrow, when we have — when we see Israeli forces entrenched and, you know, staying in Gaza and around Gaza, they need their supplies regularly. And that’s where the attacks will take place, where the most injuries and victims of Israeli soldiers will happen. And that’s why I think the Israeli politicians have to think twice about what’s going to be the next step.

AMY GOODMAN: Zaki Chehab, the Israeli government says if Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel, they’ll stop the attack.

ZAKI CHEHAB: You know, I think the reason of the whole thing is not matter of firing attacks. What we need is a proper, you know, vision of what’s going to happen. There was ceasefire before. But for how long you can hold a ceasefire? What we need is a solution. What we need is a plan to end the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza. Without such a clear plan, you know, attacks are going to take place, and people are not going to like, you know, to leave Israel live in peace.

You know, we are occupied people. We have occupied territory. And the United Nations have given the people who are under occupation the mandate to fight the occupier. So the Palestinians have a right to fight the occupation.

[inaudible] like peace in Palestine. [inaudible] like Palestinian said, “OK, let’s give peace a chance.” After 1993, you know, Washington agreement, there was peace in Gaza and West Bank for more than a year and half, two years, because the Palestinians were having hope. We have not seen attacks against Israeli forces, although they were in Gaza, by — because the hope that, you know, we have peace now. Let’s give the peace chance, because you’re going to get an independent state [inaudible].

But thirteen years of negotiation have not given the Palestinians, you know, anything. They still —- if they want to take a patient with a kidney failure or needs a heart transplant, you know, he needs permission from Israeli forces. You know, hundreds of people over the last few years have been dying on the border just waiting for permission. So, for how long, you know, the suffering of the people in Gaza? It’s true that they have like, you know, more than a hundred -—

AMY GOODMAN: Zaki Chehab, we’re going to have to leave it there.

ZAKI CHEHAB: — more than nearly now 900, 950 people killed, thousands of people injured. But still, you know, we need a clear vision where a ceasefire will take us.

AMY GOODMAN: Zaki Chehab, thank you very much for being with us, political editor of the London-based Al Hayat newspaper and Arabic TV channel LBC. His book is called Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement.

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