Gaza: Brief cease-fire shattered, Israeli troops mass outside Strip

Despite hopes for a brief cease-fire while Egyptian Prime Minister Kandil visited the Gaza Strip, Israeli and Palestinian forces launched rockets and airstrikes Friday.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Israeli soldiers prepare armored personnel carriers at an area near the border with the Gaza Strip, on Nov. 16. Israel has started drafting 16,000 reserve troops, the military said on Friday, in a sign that violence could escalate further with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

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Hopes for a brief halt to the fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces were quickly dashed Friday morning, as both sides continued to exchange fire even as Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil visited the Gaza Strip.

The Guardian reports that Israel initially promised to observe a cease-fire during Mr. Kandil's visit, provided that no rockets were launched from Gaza during the same period.  But the cease-fire was shattered soon after Kandil's arrival, as Palestinians launched several rockets into southern Israel. Israel retaliated with an airstrike against the home of a Hamas commander in Gaza, killing two people, one of them a child.  Those deaths bring the overall death toll of the conflict so far to 21 Palestinians and 3 Israelis.

The Los Angeles Times reports that during his visit, Kandil made no mention of the cease-fire or of ending the violence between Gaza and Israel. "Instead he said Egypt’s loyalty rested squarely with the Gazan people."

“The cause of Palestinians is the cause of all Arabs and Muslims,’’ he said during a visit to Shifa hospital. “Palestinians are heroes.”

The Guardian adds: "Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-led government has said a truce is the only option, but officials in Cairo warned privately that there was no immediate prospect of an end to the Israeli operation, saying the conflict could continue for at least another week."

At the moment, escalation seems a more likely future for the current Gaza conflict, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced Friday morning on its official Twitter feed that it had begun to call up 16,000 reservists as part of its Pillar of Defense operation, a process which the IDF later confirmed to Agence France-Presse. AFP notes that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced on Thursday he had authorized the mobilization of 30,000 reservists, in a likely prelude to ground operations.

The Associated Press writes that late Thursday, Israeli troops, tanks, and armored personnel carriers were seen moving toward the border with Gaza, and that Israeli television stations reported that ground operations were likely to begin on Friday. But the AP notes that changes on both sides of the conflict will likely prevent a repeat of the last war in Gaza, despite superficial similarities.

The current round of fighting is reminiscent of the first days of that three-week offensive against Hamas. Israel also caught Hamas off-guard then with a barrage of missile strikes and threatened to follow up with a ground offensive.

However, much has also changed since then.

Israel has improved its missile defense systems, but is facing a more heavily armed Hamas. Israel estimates militants possess 12,000 rockets, including more sophisticated weapons from Iran and from Libyan stockpiles plundered after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime there last year.

The AP also notes that the geopolitics of the region have also shifted. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a much more tense relationship with Israel's Western allies than then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did. And Egypt's government now includes the Muslim Brotherhood.

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