Al-Aqsa Mosque: Israeli police appear to use tear gas
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The 11-day conflict, in which more than 200 people died, most of them Palestinian, ended last week after US President Joe Biden told Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease fire”. An Israeli government source last night said: “We have always said we would stop when Hamas stopped firing rockets at Israel. “But I can say that it was important to ensure Hamas’ military capabilities were degraded as much as possible before agreeing to a cease fire.”
While some rocket-launching sites in Gaza were destroyed in airstrikes, Israeli Defence Forces managed to kill five senior Hamas commanders, 11 members of its command structure and further hundred combatants belonging to Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the movement’s military wing.
These include Bassem Issa, commander of the Gaza City Brigade, and Jomaa Tahla, commander of Hamas’ cyber system and rocket audit project; Jamal al-Zibdeh, leader of the development project in the rocket production system; Kazem al-Khatib, commander of the engineering unit in the rocket production system; Sami Radwan, commander of the technical directorate in Hamas’ military intelligence and Walid Shamali, commander of the industrial equipment directorate.
“Our emphasis is to engage with enemy combatants and to degrade enemy capabilities. This included successful strikes against Hamas research and development capabilities. They will have significant challenges in future in developing rockets they are firing now,” said IDF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Cornices in a briefing last week.
But it is the warren of tunnels, stretching hundred of miles underneath Gaza, which was the IDF’s main focus.
Dubbed “metro” by Hamas, the £150m city underneath a city was constructed in 2016 and has been continuously expanded.
Hamas has used the tunnel system much like the Viet Cong did as it evaded US forces in Vietnam – to resupply rocket bases, store munitions and mount cross-border raids to kidnap Israeli troops.
Last week senior IDF sources admitted that Israel had used a combination of airborne geological surveys with traditional intelligence methods to target and destroy 60 miles worth of tunnels.
“Hamas spent at least five years enhancing, digging and creating the underground network they casually called Metro,” said Lt.Col Conricus.
“Most people would consider the metro soothing that serves civilians, but this only serves terrorists and is at the centre of Hamas military doctrine.
“It facilitates its operatives, gives them shelter and allows them to hide from IDF forces and move, control, supply and arrange operations and provide rockets.
“It’s the backbone of their system and we’ve been analysing it for quite some time.”
Much of the tunnel networks pass under civilian apartment blocks in residential areas. Some air strikes have caused long sections of the tunnels to collapse, resulting in civilian deaths in the Rimal district, where entire families were buried beneath the rubble. In other parts of Gaza City roads buckled and sank as the tunnels beneath them collapsed.
Lt Col Cornices said he iDf had targeted areas where tunnels passed under roads, often late at night when there fewest civilians. “We’ve been targeting infrastructure with least impact and risk to life,” he said.
“If there’s a choice between houses and roads, we always choose roads.”
Last night Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of UK forces in Afghanistan who has spent much time in Israel observing the way the IDF deals with terrorist threats said: “The metro tunnels were the absolute core of Hamas’ operating capability and to have 100km destroyed is a real setback for them. They can’t just rebuild them – they will have to rethink.
“Unlike the tunnels used by the Viet Cong, these cost some half-a-million pounds per km to construct. It’s partly Iranian money and misappropriated international aid, used to construct engines of war instead of supporting the population.
“I’ve been inside them. They are concrete lined, they have power lines running through them, ventilation and air conditioning and some are set as deep as 90 feet. Not only did they cost a lot in terms of money, but they also cost many lives – they used child labourers to dig them.“
Sources within the al-Qassam Brigades have reportedly admitted that many commanders were targeted while they were inside a secret tunnel the movement had dug under Al-Thalathini Street, one of the wealthiest streets in Gaza City.
They confirmed that al-Qassam Brigades had already started an investigation on how the Israeli army reached the leaders, in what is considered a “security breach” among the brigade commanders.
Col Kemp added:”Israel knew enough about where they were – Hamas needs to be worried about that, too. This will lead to significant internal investigation and probably executions for those suspected of spying for Israel.
“In effect Israel has been able to deter them psychologically as well as deter their capabilities and the combination of those two things will set Hamas back by several years.”
He added: ”I’ve no doubt that had the ceasefire proposal been made a week earlier, Israel would have found a way of delaying things.
“Prolonging the conflict was not in Israel’s interest – it meant more deaths and more damage to the economy – it must think beyond this immediate conflict and about the next, and it was vital that it degraded as much of Hamas; command and control abilities as possible.
“Israel quite rightly didn’t want things to end until they’d done enough to stall the next round of attacks for as long as possible. And this was very legitimate in my opinion.”
Speaking from Israel’s defence ministry PM Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Israel didn’t initiate this conflict. We were attacked in an unprovoked manner by the Hamas terrorist organisation that fired four thousand rockets into our capital and into our cities. No country will sit aside when it’s attacked in such a criminal fashion. Israel is no different.
“But we did do something different. We were fighting terrorists who are hiding among civilians in one of the most densely populated places on earth. They were firing rockets on our civilians while using their civilians as human shields.
“We did everything in our power to prevent civilian casualties, unnecessary casualties of non-combatants, while trying to attack the combatants who are trying to murder our citizens. We regret every loss of life, but I can tell you categorically, there is no army in the world that acts in a more moral fashion than the army of Israel.”
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