Two years after war, Gaza border tensions flare

GAZA CITY, Adel Zaanoun- Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Monday marked two years since Israel's devastating invasion of the coastal enclave at a time of renewed high tensions with the Jewish state.
In Jabaliya, just north of Gaza City, about 1,000 people attended a rally organised by the Islamic Jihad movement to commemorate the start of Israel's Operation Cast Lead, chanting for "resistance" against Israel.

The Islamist Hamas movement which rules the Gaza Strip put on a musical and theatrical performance at Gaza City's main cultural centre.
"There were 366 sons of the police and security services martyred in the conflict," said Hamas interior ministry spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein, adding 70 percent of police stations destroyed in the conflict had been rebuilt.
Gaza's police chief laid a flower wreath at the police headquarters where Israeli strikes killed at least 230 people, most of them police officers, on the first day of the offensive.
Hamas said it would also plant 1,440 seedlings in northern Gaza, one for every Palestinian the group said was killed during the 22-day invasion Israel launched on December 27, 2008.
The anniversary comes after weeks of mortar shell and rocket fire from Gaza, retaliatory Israeli air strikes, and ramped up rhetoric from both sides.
On Sunday, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, one of the militant groups operating in Gaza, said it was prepared for a new war with Israel.
"The occupation will pay the price if they even think of carrying out an escalation in the Gaza Strip," Abu Ahmed told mourners at the funerals of two Islamic Jihad members killed Sunday in an exchange of fire with Israeli troops.
A day earlier, members of Hamas's military wing held a news conference and also announced their readiness for war.
"There is a truce in effect in the field... But if there is any Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip we will respond strongly," said a masked spokesman who identified himself as Abu Obeideh.
Israel has warned rocket fire will not be tolerated, after at least 23 mortar rounds and six rockets were fired from Gaza since December 19, including one that struck a kibbutz, landing near a kindergarten and wounding a teenage girl.
On Monday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned Hamas "not to let the situation around the Strip deteriorate."
"In the last two and a half weeks alone, we have killed nine or 10 terrorists," he said while touring a military industry factory in Haifa.
"Due to our effectiveness, they react. So what we are seeing now is an escalation that is the fruits of the operational success of the army, which we intend to continue."
Israeli army chief, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi said his troops were ready for a new confrontation if it became necessary.
"Two years after Operation Cast Lead the situation in the Gaza Strip is different and calmer," he said at a meeting with his Italian counterpart in Tel Aviv.
"Yet, sadly, from time to time, rockets and mortar shells are fired at the Israeli home front. We will not accept this," he added.
"We hope that the security situation in the south does not deteriorate, however the IDF (army) is preparing for any scenario."
Despite the rhetoric, analysts said Gaza's rulers and Israel had no real desire for a new conflict.
Hamas "does not want a confrontation at this stage. It is doing everything to prevent the situation from degenerating," Amos Gilad, a senior defence ministry official, said on Israeli television.
He said Hamas wanted "to maintain the ceasefire so as to be better prepared for any Israeli offensive."
Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a professor of political science at Gaza's Al-Azhar University, said he believed neither side was angling for war.
"I think what is happening is psychological warfare and threats designed to reinforce the truce and force Hamas to stop the rocket attacks from Gaza," he told AFP.
"Hamas wants to send Israel a message by ignoring the rocket and missile fire from Gaza that it is able to retaliate against Israel if it chooses, but at the same time, it does want calm on the ground and is committed to it."
Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in response to hundreds of rockets fired into the Jewish state.
The war, which ended in a ceasefire on January 18, 2009, killed 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.

Monday, December 27th 2010
Adel Zaanoun

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