Israeli pilots carried out a series of air strikes accompanied by artillery
barrages throughout the Gaza Strip, targeting civilian infrastructure, assassinating
militants and striking fear into the population with deafening noise as low-flying
F-16 fighter jets shatter the sound barrier overhead day and night.
Coming only weeks after the completion of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s
Gaza "disengagement," the offensive by the Israeli Air Force is officially
ongoing, though strikes have been suspended for some days following a unilateral
ceasefire observed by Hamas militants.
Dubbed "Operation First Rain," the offensive is ostensibly designed
to target terrorists responsible for firing improvised rockets into the southern
Israeli town of Sderot, injuring several people. A spokesperson for the Israel
Defense Forces (IDF) told The NewStandard that militants fired a total of 37
rockets and three mortar shells from Gaza between Friday, September 23 and Tuesday,
September 27, when the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared an end to
the rocket attacks.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said publicly that Israel would respond
to the attacks with an "iron fist," and Israeli retaliation continued
for days after Hamas’s missiles fell silent.
"If the sleep of Sderot’s children is disturbed and there’s
a feeling of insecurity among some Sderot residents, the same will be true for
Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad leaders," he told reporters on the Gaza–Israel
The insecurity in Gaza, however, is felt far beyond the Palestinian militias.
In addition to political offices, metal shops and warehouses, Israeli warplanes
and helicopters have fired missiles at civilian infrastructure including a roadway,
school, bridge, residential homes, and two power generators that were struck
early Wednesday morning, cutting off electricity to Gaza City’s 500,000
residents for hours.
The sonic booms that erupt when F-16 fighter jets break the sound barrier over
the tiny coastal strip often knock pictures from the walls of Palestinian homes.
Residents are compelled to keep their windows open lest the pressure blow them
out. The sporadic, thunderous claps rattle the nerves of adults and children
Sajida Srour, the director of a kindergarten and nursery school in Gaza City,
said the children – long accustomed to F-16s – scream whenever the
sonic booms rip through the air, and it is not uncommon for the children to
If insecurity is the goal, the air raids have been effective, added Fadi Srour,
who is among the staff at his mother’s nursery. "It works. People
Gaza residents told TNS that deafening booms from low-flying supersonic aircraft
constitute a tactic that was not used by the Israeli Air Force when Jewish settlers
lived in Gaza.
Israel also resumed its policy of assassination this week, killing senior Islamic
Jihad leader Mohammad Sheikh Khalil on Sunday with a targeted strike at his
car on a busy Gaza City street. The Israeli military killed four others it said
were suspected militants in two separate attacks in Gaza.
Mofaz threatened to widen the targeted killings. "If Hamas [leaders] Mahmoud
Al-Zahar, Ismail Haniyeh and others continue to shoot Qassam [rockets], we will
send them to where Yassin and Rantisi are now," the minister said, referring
to the assassinations of Hamas co-founders Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abdel Aziz
Rantissi, killed by Israeli air strikes in early 2004.
Israel has assassinated more than 150 Palestinian military and political leaders
during the five-year uprising.
According to a Palestine Red Crescent Society report, the Israeli air strikes
injured at least 32 civilians throughout the week, including an infant who was
among the 22 wounded when Israel bombed the Dar Al-Arqam school in Gaza City
Abu Yassin, who lives across the street from the school, said the two missiles
that struck the school sounded similar to the sonic booms, "except this
time we saw a huge flash of light, followed by screaming and crying and then
the sound of sirens as ambulances came to evacuate the wounded."
Large sections of the school were destroyed as floors collapsed on top of one
another. Crushed and mangled desks and chairs were left covered in a thick concrete
dust. Several nearby houses were sprayed with large pieces of shrapnel, and
a large chunk of the school’s floor tiling lay in Abu Yassin’s garden.
Dar Al-Arqam is an Islamic boys school in the Tufah district of Gaza City. The
school is part of Hamas's expansive social infrastructure throughout Gaza, which
includes daycares, hospitals and economic welfare programs.
Al-Arqam's more than 1,000 students are predominately in the elementary grades;
enrollment is open to all Palestinians, and the school operates under a Palestinian
Israel, however, makes no distinction between the civilian and military infrastructure
of Hamas. Israeli Captain Yael Hartmann told TNS that the school was targeted
because "it was bringing up the next generation of Hamas members."
The day after the attack, hundreds of school children took to the streets in
protest of the bombing.
The Palestinian rocket fire began early on the morning of Friday, September
23 in response to an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Tul Karm during which
Israel killed three Islamic Jihad militants. The rockets increased following
an explosion at a Hamas rally in the Gaza refugee camp of Jabalya on Friday
afternoon, which killed 21 Palestinians and injured more than 60, including
many children. Hamas blamed Israel, but most other sources claim the explosion
was an accident involving Hamas weaponry. Hamas has since formally discontinued
all armed rallies.
On Wednesday, Israel fired artillery into the Gaza Strip, hitting a field outside
Beit Hanoun from where many of the rockets were fired.
The chief of Operation First Rain, Major General Yisrael Zvi, told reporters
that Israel may use artillery against civilian homes in the densely populated
area of northern Gaza. "We will warn residents, make sure they leave, and
then fire artillery into the area," he said without elaborating on how
they would ensure the population – some 100,000 people – had fled.
"The Israel Defense Forces will turn this town into a demilitarized zone,"
Zvi added in reference to Beit Hanoun.
Israeli forces, armor and artillery are currently amassed on the Gaza border,
threatening a ground invasion.
On Sunday, Captain Hartmann characterized Operation First Rain as a "success"
and told TNS that the offensive would continue despite Hamas's public statements
and adherence to a ceasefire since Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Wednesday marked the end of the fifth year of the Palestinian uprising
that began on September 28, 2000. In the fifth year, the least deadly thus far,
425 Palestinians and 56 Israelis died in violence, according to data collected
from the IDF, Israeli Foreign Ministry and human rights group B’Tselem,