JERUSALEM – While Israel’s ground operation in the Gaza Strip the past few days has been largely reported as a war against the Hamas terrorist group, members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization boasted they also engaged in clashes against Israeli forces and fired rockets into Jewish population centers.
U.S. policy considers Fatah to be moderate.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced peace talks with Abbas aimed at creating a Palestinian state would resume while Israeli forces continue striking hard at Hamas in Gaza.
The Israel Defense Forces yesterday ended a five-day ground onslaught into Gaza aimed at denting the Hamas terror group’s rocket infrastructure in the territory. Air strikes in the territory continue.
The ground operation came after Palestinian groups in Gaza escalated their war against Israel by firing long-range rockets into Jewish population centers, including the strategic port city of Ashkelon, about 11 miles from the Gaza border and home to 125,000 Israelis.
In interviews with WND, members of Abbas’ declared military wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, complained Hamas is taking all the credit for attacking Israel from Gaza.
“We engaged in clashes with Israeli forces and just yesterday fired four rockets into Sderot and one into Ashkelon,” said Abu Ahmed, a Gaza-based leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Sderot is a city of about 25,000 near the Gaza border that has been barraged by more than 130 rockets since last Thursday.
The Brigades in the northern Gaza Strip even released an official pamphlet taking credit for firing at Israeli troops involved in ground skirmishes with Palestinian terrorists.
According to senior Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades sources, cells of the terror group engaging Israeli troops include the Al Mujaheeden Brigades, a unit of Fatah fighters allied with Hamas; and the Aymin Guda cells, strong Hamas rivals.
But Olmert and the Israeli government largely insisted on isolated the fighting in Gaza from continued negotiations with Abbas.
“The objective is reducing the rocket-fire and weakening Hamas,” Olmert told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday.
The prime minister said his government would continue allowing the IDF to attack Hamas, “which is uninterested in any structure of understanding with us, and to continue with diplomatic negotiations with (Abbas) and the Palestinian Authority.”
In a major escalation over the past few days, Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades has been firing long-range Grad rockets at Ashkelon, which houses a major electrical plant that powers most of the Gaza Strip.
Grad rockets are longer-range Soviet-style projectiles similar to the Katyusha rocket, which the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group successfully used in 2006 to barrage northern Israel. The Grad travels farther and has a larger payload than the Qassam rocket, which can travel about five miles and is the usual rocket of choice for Palestinians.
Israel’s entire Gaza ground incursion, which involved hundreds of ground troops and dozens of tanks, was limited to only about one mile inside Gaza. The operation was not expected to greatly dent Hamas’ rocket-firing capabilities, since most rocket attacks are launched from at least two miles into the Gaza Strip.
At least 100 Palestinians were killed in military operations this weekend. Israeli officials said 85 of the dead were terrorists. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed during yesterday’s ground operations.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak defended the Gaza operation as necessary to combat ongoing rocket attacks.
“We pulled out of Gaza, we tore Israelis from their homes, just for quiet in the communities in the Gaza envelope. These were painful concessions that we made for quiet, and Hamas has continued its fire without reason,” said Barak.
“They are firing on innocent civilians and have left us no choice. We will operate with force to change the situation, and we will change it,” Barak said.
To interview Aaron Klein, contact M. Sliwa Public Relations by e-mail, or call 973-272-2861 or 212-202-4453.