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Rallies in Gaza mark war anniversary

Dec. 27, 2010 3:16 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 28, 2010 6:52 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- At least 1,000 people attended a rally organized by the Islamic Jihad movement, chanting for continued "resistance" against Israel as Jabaliya residents, in an area just north of Gaza City, marked the anniversary of the start of Israel's last war on Gaza.

Mourners gathered at the entrance of Ezbat Abed Rabu, a neighborhood almost obliterated during the bombing two years earlier, and were dozens of homes remain flattened, with owners unable to rebuild as the economy flat lines and building materials remain unattainable due to the Israeli blockade.

Islamic Jihad Politburo member Mohammad Al-Hindi spoke to the crowd, and calling out what he saw as increased threats from Israel to carry out a new war on the coastal enclave.

Al-Hindi said Israeli threats "are taken seriously by Palestinian resistance factions," calling Israeli audacity to war monger as accusations of human rights violations and war crimes from the last war still stand unanswered for.

"The Israeli army can no longer carry out a quick war, achieving rapid victory against our people and our nation," he said, recalling the 22-day war on Gaza in 2008-9, and the 33-day war against southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006. In both cases, he said, the Israseli army "withdrew defeated."

Islamic Jihad and other resistance factions are "ready for more sacrifices" in the path to freedom and independence, he said.

With sharp rhetoric, Al-Hindi said the international community was giving cover to Israel as it continued its crimes against the Palestinian people, and had harsh words against the United States, and its continued attempts to mediate between Israel and the PLO for a peace deal.

Following the speech, protesters torched US and Israeli flags, chanting slogans that denounced "the holocaust against the people of Gaza."

For its part, Hamas officials pledged Monday to plant 1,440 seedlings in northern Gaza, one for every Palestinian the group said was killed during Israel's 22-day invasion launched on December 27, 2008.

The anniversary comes after weeks of mortar shell and rocket fire from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli air strikes.

Increased airstrikes, projectile fire as anniversary marked

Both sides have ramped up their rhetoric, warning an escalation in violence could result in a full-blown conflict.

On Sunday, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, one of the militant groups operating in Gaza, said it was also 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 in a Sunday exchange of fire with Israeli troops.

A day earlier, members of Hamas's military wing held a press 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.

Israeli officials have warned that continued 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.

"I hope there is no need for another operation like Cast Lead," Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told public radio on Sunday.

"But if this situation continues -- if missiles keep being smuggled in without hindrance, if they continue shooting into Israel, trying to hit innocent civilians -- then, obviously we will have to respond and respond with all our force."

Despite the rhetoric, analysts said Gaza's Hamas 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."

And Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a professor of political science at Gaza's Al-Azhar University, said he believed neither side was angling for war.

"I don't think Israel wants open war with the Gaza Strip ... and it wants to maintain calm on the ground," he told AFP.

"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," the professor said.

He said Hamas was flexing its muscles by allowing some rocket fire into Israel, but was largely committed to maintaining the truce.

"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.

AFP contributed to this report
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