UPDATE: Israel and Hamas have agreed to a cease-fire that will begin within hours, Hillary Clinton announced Wednesday, suggesting that an end to the week-long conflict in Gaza that claimed more than 100 lives would soon come to an end.
"The people of this region deserve the chance to be free of fear and violence and today's agreement is a step in the right direction that we should build on," the U.S. secretary of state said from Egypt, where she had been helping negotiate an agreement.
The Associated Press with more on the agreement:
In details of the agreement obtained exclusively by The Associated Press, the official said Israel would cease all military activity against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants would cease rocket attacks into Israel. After 24 hours of quiet, Gaza’s border crossings with Israel would be opened further to allow freer movement of goods and people.
Egypt would be the guarantor of the deal, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense is in its second week and while the international community continues to scramble to broker a cease-fire, the assaults and counter-assaults have continued mostly unabated, pushing the death toll from the latest clash between the Israelis and Palestinians into triple digits.
The latest reports from the region suggest that 140 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds more injured by strikes from Israeli warplanes and drones since the air campaign began last Wednesday. Hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas, meanwhile, have claimed the lives of a half dozen or so Israelis and injured scores more, figures that would likely be much higher if not for Israel's Iron Dome defense system, which has intercepted most—but not all—of the missiles that have rained down across the country.
Below, you'll find our running tab of noteworthy developments, original analysis and any other interesting nuggets that can't find a home elsewhere in Slate's ongoing coverage of the conflict.
(9 a.m.) DEAL STILL ELUSIVE: New York Times:
To a backdrop of airstrikes and mounting casualties, American efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in the latest Gaza fighting between Israel and Hamas continued on Wednesday but the struggle to achieve even a brief pause in the fighting emphasized the obstacles to finding any lasting solution.
Israeli airstrikes overnight continued into Wednesday morning, hitting government buildings, the smuggling tunnels under the southern Rafah border crossing and a bridge on the beach road that is one of three linking Gaza City to the central area of the strip. The Hamas health ministry said the Palestinian death toll stood at 140 at noon, with 1,100 injured. At least a third of those killed are believed to have been militants.
THIS PROBABLY WON'T HELP: Al Jazeera English:
At least 21 people have been injured in an explosion on a bus in Israel's commercial capital, Tel Aviv, in what police described as a "terrorist attack". The blast shattered windows on the bus as it drove along a tree-lined street next to Israel's huge defence ministry complex on Wednesday. ...
Police said it was not a suicide attack and suggested that someone might have left the device on the bus. "We do believe it was a terrorist attack," Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told Al Jazeera.
The bombing happened on the eighth day of an Israeli offensive against the Palestinian Gaza Strip and coincided with intensive diplomatic efforts to secure a lasting truce. Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, which rules Gaza, told Al Jazeera that "this is a natural result for the Israeli aggression on our people".
WHITE HOUSE SHIFT: Washington Post:
President Obama’s decision to send his top diplomat on an emergency Middle East peacemaking mission Tuesday marked an administration shift to a more activist role in the region’s affairs and offered clues to how he may use the political elbow room afforded by a second term. The move could pay dividends quickly if Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helps arrange an end to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. She was scheduled to head to Cairo on Wednesday for talks with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi after discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Clinton’s peacemaking trip is Obama’s clearest signal yet to Israel that it should begin to pull back its campaign against militants in the Gaza Strip. The administration knows that with Clinton on the ground trying to resolve the crisis, it will be harder for Netanyahu to make good on his threat to invade Gaza.
LATEST ON THE CEASE-FIRE TALKS: New York Times:
Diplomatic efforts accelerated on Tuesday to end the deadly confrontation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, as the United States sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East and Egypt’s president and his senior aides expressed confidence that a cease-fire was close. But by late evening there was no word on an agreement.
Meanwhile... The BBC:
Gaza has come under renewed bombardment from Israel, as agreement on a ceasefire to end a week of violence remains elusive. At least 20 Palestinians were reported to have been killed on Tuesday. Two Israelis—a soldier and a civilian—were killed in rocket strikes. Earlier, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said a ceasefire would shortly be announced at talks in Cairo. But Israel has said a deal is not yet done. And late on Tuesday, a senior Hamas official, Izzat Risheq, said a deal might not be reached until the morning.
IT'S NOT A CEASE-FIRE UNTIL THE FIRING ACTUALLY CEASES: New York Times: "Diplomatic efforts accelerated on Tuesday to end the deadly confrontation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, as the United States sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East and Egypt’s president and his senior aides expressed confidence that a cease-fire was close. But by late evening there was no word on an agreement."
CLINTON HEADS TO REGION: New York Times:
President Obama sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East on Tuesday to try to defuse the conflict in Gaza, the White House announced.
Mrs. Clinton, who accompanied Mr. Obama on his three-country Asia trip, left on her own plane immediately for the region, where she will stop first in Jerusalem to meet with Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu of Israel, then head to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders and finally to Cairo to consult with Egyptian officials.
The decision to dispatch Mrs. Clinton dramatically deepens the American involvement in the crisis. Mr. Obama made a number of late-night phone calls from his Asian tour to the Middle East on Monday night that contributed to his conclusion that he had to become more engaged and that Mrs. Clinton might be able to accomplish something.
WHO SHE WON'T MEET WITH: Washington Post:
Clinton will not meet with Hamas, which the United States does not recognize diplomatically, but rather with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, the officials said.
THE LINE BETWEEN MILITANT AND CIVILIAN: Washington Post:
[T]he line between Hamas — the Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip — and the general population in a densely packed territory of 1.7 million is hopelessly thin.
Over the weekend, Israel warned civilians, including journalists, to stay away from Hamas or risk being killed. Many Gazans said that is fundamentally impossible in a place where nearly everyone has a neighbor or a relative with links to Hamas, a group that Israel and the United States consider a terrorist organization.
Hamas is thoroughly embedded in society here. The organization has a powerful militant wing that is committed to fighting Israel. But its members also populate the police force, the customs office and government ministries. The group won legislative elections here in 2006, and it has hundreds of thousands of rank-and-file supporters. Hamas also runs an extensive network of social services, including schools and health clinics. Buildings that Israel labels “terror sites” are what Hamas calls government infrastructure. Some of the young men who farm the fields by day take to the streets at night to fire rockets.
HOW ISRAEL COULD REALLY HIT HAMAS: The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart:
Yes, Israel is pounding Hamas militarily, but military action, by itself, can do only so much damage. Israel can destroy Hamas’s rockets, but Hamas will buy new ones. Israel can kill Hamas’s leaders, but Hamas will train new ones. Even if Israel reoccupied the Gaza Strip, which it won’t, Hamas would simply go into exile and underground.
What Israel isn’t doing is attacking Hamas politically. Indeed, it’s doing the opposite. If Israel really wanted to harm Hamas, it would boost the group’s main rivals, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. Abbas and Fayyad—remember them?—have bet their careers on the proposition that security cooperation with Israel and public recognition of Israel’s right to exist are more likely to bring their people dignity and justice than are Hamas’s rockets. But it’s not working out so well for them. It’s hard for Abbas and Fayyad to convince Palestinians that their nonviolent path to statehood is succeeding when settlement expansion gobbles up more and more of the land (and water) upon which Palestinians might build their state. ...
Israel can’t destroy Hamas. But Israel can weaken Hamas politically so that when Palestinians do finally hold elections, as they must, Hamas suffers rather than benefits for opposing two states. The problem is that in order to make Hamas suffer for opposing the two-state solution, Israel’s government would have to truly embrace that solution. And it won’t. Taking a hard line against Hamas requires taking a hard line against the settlements—and at the end of the day, this Israeli government is soft on them both.
AMERICAN PERCEPTIONS: Politico:
A majority of Americans believe Israel’s military attack on the Gaza Strip is justified, according to a poll released Monday. Only a quarter of Americans think the Israeli response to rockets fired at the country’s cities is unwarranted, the CNN/ORC poll found, while 57 percent believe Israel’s response is proper, and 19 percent have no opinion. ...
The last time Israel waged a major offensive against Hamas, in January 2009, 63 percent of Americans believed Israel’s actions were justified. In the poll released Monday, 59 percent of Americans sympathized with Israelis, and only 13 percent with the Palestinian people.
Democrats were far more skeptical of Israel’s actions than the public at large. Only 41 percent of party members, and 39 percent of liberals, believe Israel’s actions are justified. Support is also lower among non-whites and those ages 18-34. Support peaks among Republicans, 74 percent of whom support the response, and among those over 65.
THE IRON DOME IS WORKING: Time magazine:
"[The missile-defense shield] is destroying about 90% of the rockets and missiles that Hamas, the Palestinian political party governing Gaza, is firing into southern Israel, Israeli officials say. ... "We’ve got about a 90% success rate," he says, proudly giddy. "This is unprecedented in history." It’s also impossible to confirm, but the lack of Israeli casualties suggests Iron Dome is the most-effective, most-tested missile shield the world has ever seen.
"We keep tweaking it," says the senior official, who declined to be identified. "In one of the recent exchanges, one of the batteries was 100% [successful]. That means, to me, that Iron Dome is capable of 100% [across the board] — I don’t think it was entirely a fluke." He said he didn’t know how many missiles and interceptors were involved in the salvo; an Iron Dome battery typically consists of a radar unit and three launchers, each outfitted with 20 Tamir interceptor missiles.
The bottom line: the more rockets Hamas fires, it seems, the better at stopping them Iron Dome becomes.
THE IRON DOME IS WORKING, Part II: NPR's Marketplace:
For Israelis living within the range of rocket attacks, the Iron Dome has been nothing less then a lifesaver. Israeli officials joke that a "cult of the Iron Dome" has developed, as Israelis have started running out of their homes, rather then into their bunkers, to film Iron Dome at work. ...
Speaking in a busy cafe near the Israel-Gaza border, Amos Harel, a military analyst for Israel's newspaper Haaretz, keeps a close eye on the Iron Dome battery just a few hundred feet away. "The fact that so many rockets have been intercepted managed to affect considerably the number of casualties on the Israeli side. There is therefore less pressure on the government than there would have been if we'd had the 15 or 20 funerals on the Israeli side. They feel they have a little more space to maneuver," Harel says.
He adds that if there were more Israeli civilian casualties — as there were four years ago during Israel's last offensive in Gaza — the Israeli public would be calling for harsh and immediate action. Iron Dome, he says, gave Israel's leadership a little wiggle room.
HOW DO YOU AIM A ROCKET ANYWAY? An Explainer from 2006:
In military terms, a "rocket" refers to an unguided, self-propelled weapon. Once the ... militants have picked a target in Israel—say, the city of Haifa—all they have to do is point the rocket in the right direction, set the firing tube at the appropriate angle off the ground, and let 'er rip. They can figure out the direction with a computer and a compass. But to get the angle, they need to check the distance to the target against published data for the particular make of rocket they're using. Then they can improve the accuracy of the attack by correcting the launch angle for temperature, altitude, and wind.
INCREASED CLOUT: The New York Times:
Hamas, badly outgunned on the battlefield, appeared [Monday] to be trying to exploit its increased political clout with its ideological allies in Egypt’s new Islamist-led government. The group’s leaders, rejecting Israel’s call for an immediate end to the rocket attacks, have instead laid down sweeping demands that would put Hamas in a stronger position than when the conflict began: an end to Israel’s five-year-old embargo of the Gaza Strip, a pledge by Israel not to attack again and multinational guarantees that Israel would abide by its commitments.
SHORT-TERM SOLUTION, LONG-TERM PROBLEM: Zachary Goldman in The Atlantic:
Israel's approach in Gaza in Operation Pillar of Defense is likely to have two paradoxical effects on the relationship between Israel and Hamas. First, in the short-to-medium term, holding Hamas's military leadership responsible for any act of violence emanating from Gaza will likely lead to a period of relative calm after the inevitable cease-fire is reached. This is because the group within Hamas that is in charge of enforcing order paid the most direct price when it permitted that order to break down and missiles to once again fly towards Israel's civilian population. This is clearly desirable from the point of view of the Israeli government, which must provide security to the residents of the southern half of the country.
But the long-term effect is that treating Hamas as the sovereign authority in the Strip will make a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians more difficult to achieve, largely because it will become harder for the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and Hamas to reconcile and achieve a unification agreement. In this context, a Hamas that can control violence emanating from Gaza and forestall Israeli strikes will increase its popularity among the people and find its rule there more secure. It will thus be less willing to compromise with the Palestinian Authority, particularly since the Arab Spring has already emboldened Hamas by making it feel as though Islamist parties are ascendant throughout the region, and that time is therefore on its side.
A HUMAN FACE: The Washington Post:
In Gaza on Sunday, Israeli warplanes dropped bombs that hit the Dallu family residence, killing a mother and her four children, ages 10, 6, 2 and 1, as well as five other relatives. ... "They killed the whole family," said Yasser Sallouha, an uncle of the children, looking despondent as he stood near their bodies at the morgue."“The whole family tree is gone. Were the two children launching rockets? I want someone to answer me. They are taking revenge on children."
On Monday, Gazans buried the Dallu family at the hilltop Sheikh Radwan Cemetery in Gaza City amid continued airstrikes. One explosion shook the hill and sent a cloud of gray smoke into the air over nearby buildings. A few elderly men sobbed as men carried the still bloodied bodies of two of the children. "We want to be martyrs like them," Kamal al-Dallu, 60, a cousin of the family, shouted angrily. He said Gaza is ready for an Israeli ground invasion. "We don’t want war, but we will protect ourselves, and we will fight them," he said.
WHAT'S DIFFERENT THIS TIME: NPR:
Previous bloodlettings in Gaza took place in a very confined space. Israel fenced off Gaza years ago to prevent Palestinian militants from getting out, and Palestinian homemade rockets could only travel a few miles into southern Israel.
Now Palestinian rockets can reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel's two largest and most important cities, which are in the center the country. Symbolically and psychologically, Hamas poses a more significant threat with these more powerful weapons, which came from Iran, according to the Israeli military.
Elsewhere in Slate: Dahlia Lithwick explains what it’s like to be in Israel as the conflict escalates. And:
- DoubleX: My Tel Aviv Bubble, Burst
- Foreigners: Why Israel’s Gaza Campaign Is Doomed
- The Slatest: "Well, That Was a Rather Large Explosion"
- The Slatest: Rupert Murdoch Wonders Why “Jewish Owned” Media Have “Anti-Israel” Bias
- Future Tense: Instagram Photos of Smiling Soldiers Show Israel Is Now Losing Its Gaza Social Media War