Crossfire War – Lull in Gaza Over as Palestinians Unleash Rocket-Mortar Barrage

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Crossfire War – Rapid Fire News=Tehran – Gaza – Beirut Watch – West Asia – North – Northeast Africa Theatre: Tehran – Riyadh – Tripoli – Khartoum – Baghdad – El Arish – Nablus – Damascus – Beirut – Gaza/Jerusalem – Cairo – Amman – Paris – Rome – London – Washington; Lull Over as Palestinians Unleash Rocket – Mortar Barrage – IAF Airstrikes – Netanyahu Calls for Resignation of PM Olmert – Ceasefire Over in Iraq as Elements of Mahdi Army Engage US-Iraq Police in Kut

Night Watch: BETHLEHEM – “Yesterday in Bethlehem we demonstrated once again that the State of Israel will continue to pursue and strike all leaders with Jewish blood on their hands.”

That was a statement from Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak speaking at a memorial for Israeli soldiers killed and their whereabouts unknown. Haaretz/Reuters reports it was the day after an undercover Israeli unit discovered the location of several Palestinian militants in the West Bank, that Israel had been hunting for years.

The four militants were killed leaving a Bethlehem restaurant and on the same day in Tulkarem the leader of Islamic Jihad in that city was killed. This is similar to Israel successfully targeting last month the five Hamas militants in Gaza that had just returned from advanced training in Syria-Iran. That caused Hamas to retaliate by launching a massive Qassam-Katyusha rocket barrage that resulted in Israel conducting its largest air-ground offensive into Gaza in two years. The lull or calm after that offensive is now over. [HAARETZ]

A spokesman for Islamic Jihad said the twenty rockets fired late Wednesday into Thursday afternoon was just the unit’s “initial” response. Palestinian sources have said Hamas commitments to Egyptian negotiators were for only one week of “calm” which ends Friday. The latest rocket fire has only done some damage to two warehouses in Sderot, caused no injuries as other rockets hit harmlessly in the Western Negev.

The Israel Air Force (IAF) has already conducted an air raid in Beit Hanoun in south Gaza targeting a rocket squad. Speaking over Israel Army Radio, former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh stated, “Israel will not exist side by side with this Iranian entity 3 kilometers from Sderot and 10 kilometers from Ashkelon. There can be no solution without a diplomatic agreement, and there can be no solution without the military wiping out Hamas.” I suspect he has voiced Jerusalem’s real policy which has been conveyed to Washington-Moscow and to most European capitals.

In a parallel development MK (Minister of Knesset-Parliament) Benjamin Netanyahu has called for the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, just a few hours before meeting Olmert in a briefing, due to what Netanyahu describes as Olmert’s weak policies against attacks. “A Prime Minister who asks citizens to accept rocket fire cannot continue in his post and should give his spot to someone who can fight terror.”

Kut – The ceasefire continuation announced last month by Iraq Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to his 60,000 Mahdi Army was issued with a lot of understandings and conditions, so many in fact I suspect it was for the sake of al-Sadr’s image. His image makers are of course in Tehran who now have him in Iran’s religious city of Qom where he is supposed to be going through a higher level of religious instruction from which he may emerge with the rank just below Ayatollah which is intended to increase his stature and prestige.

In the meantime, in order to relieve the frustration of a lot of the Mahdi Army rank and file, al-Sadr issued a statement from Qom which permitted them to defend themselves if attacked as they were Tuesday by Iraqi police in a raid in Kut. The city is 105 miles (170 km) southeast of Baghdad and fighting became so heavy U. S. forces called in air support. The next day eleven Katyusha rockets hit the U.S. base near there and it is known the fire came from the Mahdi Army stronghold in Kut, in the Shuhada district. Though a senior member of the Mahdi Army is calling for fighting to cease he is based in Najaf, very far away from this action and most likely with no influence outside Najaf. [SWISSINFO]

Not only is the ceasefire probably over but Swissinfo/Reuters report violence has increased in Iraq ever since the start of the year especially in the country’s north. It may be significant Kut is only forty miles from Iran’s border and Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman said earlier this week Tehran intended to make a strong response to the U.S. on Friday, the day of Iranian Parliamentary elections.

Tyre – Ever since Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah made his speech Feb. 14, threatening another war with Israel, officials in Lebanon have been overwhelmed by requests for visas and passports as many people prepare to leave the country or at least move to areas they feel are safe. Asharq al-Awsat/AFP mentioned an article in the Lebanese paper As-Safir, “The Lebanese are worried about the situation and are acting as if war is imminent as they set up emergency plans: getting their passports ready, seeking visas, renting apartments far from what they believe will be the battle front and changing their whole way of life.”

Lina Melham, 35, a resident of the Beirut south suburb Dahiyeh said, “I renewed my passport and those of the three children because I’m scared something is going to happen. We suffered a lot during the 2006 war and I am not willing to go through this again. If war breaks out I will immediately leave to join my husband who works in Qatar.” Beirut’s southern suburbs are a Hezbollah stronghold which is why the IAF hit them so heavily in 2006. One Lebanese man said he was actually going as far as the Ivory Coast. [ASHARQALAWSAT]

Not only is war about to hit this front again it will be much more devastating than two years ago since not only is Hezbollah more prepared but so is Israel who will show no hesitancy as they did in 2006. Syria-Iran-al-Qaeda-Palestinian groups in Lebanon and Lebanon’s army are all prepared to enter. Washington also has warships off the coast. The only people more caught in this year’s crossfire than Lebanon’s population are the 13,000 European units serving in south Lebanon under UNIFIL. Nasrallah made his speech just two days after the Iranian staged assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in which he not only accused Israel but stated Hezbollah would retaliate with a series of attacks. Most analysts assume the attacks will take place at the end of the Muslim forty day period of mourning due to end March 22-23, which I believe is also near the Persian New Year.

Willard Payne is an international affairs analyst who specializes in International Relations. A graduate of Western Illinois University with a concentration in East-West Trade and East-West Industrial Cooperation, he has been providing incisive analysis to NewsBlaze. He is the author of Imagery: The Day Before.