As IDF sweeps West Bank, Gaza residents prepare for war

Coastal enclave widely accepts that Hamas was involved in the kidnapping and braces for a harsh Israeli response; Shin Bet said to threaten Gaza man allegedly linked to abduction with a missile strike

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

An Israeli army tank is seen stationed on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on March 13, 2014. (AFP/Jack Guez)
An Israeli army tank is seen stationed on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on March 13, 2014. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Gaza residents are preparing for war after Israel accused Hamas of kidnapping three Israeli teens, sources in the coastal enclave told The Times of Israel Wednesday.

The population widely believes that the Hamas leadership was indeed involved in the abduction and that after Israel has finished dealing with the kidnapping saga, it will turn its attention to the Gaza Strip.

The independent Palestinian news agency Palswa reported Wednesday that Israeli special forces had raided the West Bank home of a prisoner who was freed in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal and deported to Gaza. According to the report, a Shin Bet security service agent forced the prisoner’s brother to call his sibling in Gaza. When the man picked up the phone, the agent reportedly took the receiver and said, “We know you are involved in the kidnapping, and we will hit you with a missile from a drone.”

Israeli forces, aided by PA security, have been engaged in a widespread operation against Hamas in the West Bank since the kidnapping Thursday night south of Jerusalem of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16 and Naftali Frankel, 16. Israeli officials have blamed Hamas for the abduction, as have Western officials including US Secretary of State John Kerry. As of Wednesday, 240 people had been detained in the operation, according to the IDF.

Gaza residents have expressed concern that an escalation could disrupt preparations for the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which begins in 10 days. The weeks before the holiday are known for intensive shopping, and residents have reported shortages of fuel and other supplies at gas stations and stores in Gaza as a result of a deepening economic crisis.

The unemployment rate in the Strip stands at about 40%, and some 40,000 employees of the Hamas government have not been paid in several months. The new Fatah-Hamas unity government, which had promised that a special committee would look into transferring back wages to the employees, has been dragging its feet and refusing to pay the salaries.

Despite the upcoming holiday, Egypt does not plan to open up its Rafah border crossing with Gaza to ease the population’s situation, an Egyptian official told The Times of Israel.

“The crossing will only be opened if Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority security forces are in place [in Gaza], with strict security arrangements that allow Israeli and international oversight, but such a solution is not likely,” the official said.

Israel has effectively blockaded the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control in 2007, only allowing essential goods to pass through Israeli border crossings. At Gaza’s southern end, Egypt, in trying to quell unrest and violence in the Sinai Peninsula, has only opened the Rafah crossing intermittently over the past year and destroyed most of the smuggling tunnels that fueled the Gaza economy.

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