Hamas looking like Hezbollah as Israel leaves Gaza ‘Victory’ rally held, promises made for help in rebuilding
Taghreed El-Khodary,Isabel Kershner, New York Times
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
As Israel withdrew its forces from the northern Gaza Strip on Monday after a two-day assault on Hamas militants, and as Palestinians emerged from their houses to inspect the damage, Hamas leaders seemed to be following the playbook of their Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, in its 2006 war with Israel.
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, said that like Hezbollah, Hamas had “gone from the stone to the rocket.”
“What we learned from Hezbollah,” he said, “is that resistance is a choice that can work.”
The clearest example of echoing Hezbollah came on Monday when thousands attended a so-called victory rally, and Mahmoud Zahar, an influential Hamas leader, briefly came out of hiding to tell the rally-goers that his organization would rebuild any house that had been damaged by the Israeli strikes.
Holding up his group as the source of reconstruction as well as resistance is precisely the message that brought local and regional acclaim to Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, when his organization faced down Israeli attacks in the summer of 2006 through rocket barrages on Israel.
The latest surge in hostilities between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip left 116 Palestinians dead, according to Dr. Moawiya Hassanain of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, making it the deadliest fighting in Gaza in a year. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting in northern Gaza on Saturday, and one Israeli civilian was killed last Wednesday by rocket fire in the border town of Sderot.
But more than 200 rockets have been fired at Israel since Wednesday, according to Israeli military officials, including at least 21 longer-range Katyusha-style rockets, which are manufactured outside Gaza and brought into the strip. Palestinians and Israelis see the use of those rockets as another illustration of the growing similarity between Hezbollah and Hamas, the militant Islamic organization that controls Gaza.
“We are very concerned that the role model for Hamas in Gaza is the Lebanese Hezbollah,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when asked about parallels between this conflict and the one with Hezbollah.
“I have no doubt that the people who built Hezbollah’s military machine are now building the military machine of Hamas,” Regev added. He named Iran, where Israeli security officials say the longer-range rockets used by both Hezbollah and Hamas were made.
Israeli officials say that Hezbollah not only is a model for Hamas but also provides it with training and logistical support. They add that Hamas has also adopted other Hezbollah tactics, operating out of civilian areas and in some cases storing weapons in homes, creating similar dilemmas for the army that it faced in its war in Lebanon in 2006.
Soon after the forces left northern Gaza on Monday, two more of the imported rockets struck Ashkelon, an Israeli coastal city of 120,000 people about 10 miles north of the strip. One rocket hit an apartment block, causing damage but no serious injuries.
Hamas has claimed responsibility for most of the rocket fire. Hamas took over Gaza last June after routing forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah.
Abbas, who is now based in the West Bank, suspended peace talks with Israel as the death toll rose in Gaza, and on Monday he called on all sides to agree to a cease-fire and to allow him to act as a mediator, a day before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected to arrive in the area for talks.
Amid the antagonism, Rice urged Palestinians on Monday to quickly resume peace talks with Israel, and said a deal to end the six-decade conflict is still possible before President Bush leaves office.
“I’m hopeful that we can get through this current situation and get back to negotiations,” Rice said as she headed to the Mideast for meetings that amount to a rescue mission for a peace push Bush launched last fall.
Meanwhile Monday, there was a second day of unrest in the West Bank, with Palestinians protesting the Israeli actions in Gaza and throwing stones at soldiers and Israeli cars in various locations. An Israeli settler shot dead a 17-year-old Palestinian on a road west of Ramallah. According to Israel Radio, the settler said he had gone out for a walk and was confronted by a group of Palestinians, some masked, who threw stones.
In an apparent bid to remain relevant in Gaza, and in an echo of the actions of the Lebanese government in southern Beirut last summer, Abbas also instructed his government on Monday to allocate $5 million to compensate Gaza residents whose properties were damaged in the Israeli campaign.
Israel says its ground and air forces have been aiming only at rocket squads and weapons storage and production facilities in Gaza. Israel’s army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and its chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, both described 90 percent of those killed in Gaza in the last few days as terrorists.
But that figure is challenged by medical officials in Gaza, who say about half of those killed were civilians, including several young children. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem also issued a statement on Monday saying that by its count, at least 54 of the dead had not taken part in the hostilities.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article appeared on page A – 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle