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Operation Cast Lead - Background

Israel withdrew every Israeli soldier and all 8000 Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip as part of its 2005 disengagement initiative. In 2007 Hamas accelerated the military buildup of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which focuses on attacks against Israel and the IDF. There was a substantial increase in rocket fire compared with 2001-2005, the years before the disengagement. Israeli and Hamas negotiators reached an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement June 18 that took effect June 19. The agreement was to last for six months. While Israel had been expected to lift or at least ease the blockade that had imposed severe hardships on the entire population of Gaza, it failed to do so. Israel refused to substantially ease the siege of Gaza imposed in June 2007, and Hamas continued sporadic rocket fire.

On 04 November 2008 Israel raided the Gaza Strip in order to thwart the threat of a tunnel being dug by the Gaza border, killing at least 6 Palestinians. This incident is apparently the "incursion" that HAMAS took as the reason for ending the truce. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire. On 12 November 2008, IDF Paratroopers Brigade forces identified a number of armed gunmen attempting to plant an explosive device next to the security fence in the central Gaza Strip. The gunmen exchanged fire with the IDF forces that arrived at the scene. The IDF had recently identified a significant rise in attempts to place explosive devices on the security fence of the Gaza Strip in an attempt to target forces in the area.

From 04 November through 18 December 2008, Hamas and affiliated Palestinian terrorist groups fired 213 rockets and 126 mortar shells into Israel. More than 20 Kassam rockets were fired at southern Israel from Gaza on Wednesday 17 December 2008. In response to the continuous rocket fire from the Gaza Strip upon Israeli territory, IDF forces carried out four aerial strikes against terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday 17 December 2008.

On 19 December 2008 the Islamist militant group Hamas ended the six-month ceasefire with Israel in the Gaza Strip. Hamas issued a statement blaming Israel which had not "respected" the truce. Israel's foreign ministry spokesman said the militants, who control Gaza, "had chosen violence over truth". The truce had failed to achieve what each side wanted from it. Hamas had hoped the would provide a breathing space in which it could consolidate its grip on the Gaza Strip, but Israel did not wish to see this happen.

Israel was reluctant to invade Gaza as it had Southern Lebanon in 2006, fearing high casualties among Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians, and in turn, international condemnation. Hamas seemed unfazed by Israeli threats. Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said Gaza's ground is not covered with fragrant flowers, but with men and women suicide bombers. He said Israel would not dare invade Gaza because it knows it would pay a heavy price. Professor Georgy Mirsky from the Russian Institute of World Economy believed that "for Hamas and its radical allies, an Israeli land invasion will be the best option. It won't embarrass them that there'll be far more victims among Palestinians than among Israelis," he said. According to him, it is radical Islamists who triggered the new wave of violence.

Israel kept the crossings into Gaza closed since 19 December, cutting off humanitarian supplies, the second longest period they have remained shut since Hamas seized control of the Strip from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in June 2007. Due to the lack of fuel and spare parts, Gaza power plant was shut, affecting all aspects of daily life including sanitation, water and power supply to households, schools, and civilian institutions. In particular, 60 per cent of the Gaza population is receiving running water once every five to seven days.

Tzipi Livny, head of Kadima Party, said on December 21 in an interview with Israeli TV that if she becomes prime minister, she will eliminate Hamas using military, economic and diplomatic means.

On Thursday 25 December 2008 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a "last-minute" appeal to Palestinians in Gaza on Thursday to stop rocket fire at Israel. In a rare interview on al-Arabiya television, which broadcasts to the Arab world, Olmert said "We have enormous power, we can do things which will be devastating," he said. "And I keep restraining myself and I keep restraining my friends all the time and I tell them, 'Let's wait, let's wait, let's wait. Let's give them another chance.'" The prime minister says he was running out of patience. "And I'm telling them now, 'It may be the last minute.' I'm telling them, 'Stop it, we are stronger. There will be more blood there.' Who wants it? We don't want it," he said.

On Friday 26 December 2008 Israel reopened border crossings and sent basic food and supplies into Gaza. The army said 90 trucks crossed the border carrying rice, flour, fuel and medicine. Palestinian militants continued to bombard southern Israel with dozens of rockets and mortar shells. With rockets and mortars terrorizing southern Israeli towns and farming communities, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert was under increasing pressure to act against Hamas.


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