The Hamas rocket offensive against Sderot

Published: 21 May 2007
Briefing Number 195

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Summary: This Briefing describes the Palestinian rocket offensive against Sderot, and how it intensified during May 2007. Israel 's military countermeasures (for which it is portrayed as being “on the offensive”) are a last-resort act of self-defence taken in response to the Hamas-led attacks. This Briefing explains the background facts, and how to present these arguments.

Five years of Palestinian rocket attacks

•  Sderot is an Israeli town of 24,000 citizens. It lies in the Western Negev , inside the so-called ‘Green Line' – ie the pre-1967 ceasefire line.

•  In the last five years, Palestinian groups based in the North Gaza Strip have fired over 4,500 Qassam rockets and mortars at Sderot.

•  Attacks occurred when Israeli forces were still in Gaza (see Briefing 130). But they continued after Israel disengaged from Gaza (see Briefing 176) .

•  They occurred when Israel ‘fired back'. But they also continued when Israel did not fire back (see Briefing 188).

Israel 's calls for the attacks to stop

•  Since November 2006, over 330 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired at Sderot. Israel barely took any steps to stop the attacks. The groups responsible included Islamic Jihad, the so-called ‘armed wing' of Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

•  Israel appealed to the Palestinian Government to curb the attacks.

•  It appealed to the Egyptians to stop the smuggling of more weaponry into the Gaza Strip. And it appealed to the international community to bring pressure on the Palestinians to stop the attacks.

•  None of these calls was had any effect.

Making life impossible in Sderot

•  Life in Sderot has been made impossible by the attacks.

•  Schools, kindergartens, community centres, synagogues and private homes have been randomly hit, with residents having only a few seconds to take cover when the warning sirens go off.

•  The Qassams are routinely described as “makeshift” or “homemade” weapons. But they kill and maim, and they terrify. Many Israelis have died and been seriously injured, including children.

•  For good measure, the Palestinian groups also target the Israeli town of Ashkelon , home to strategic fuel storage facilities. A direct rocket hit on those facilities could be catastrophic. There have been near-misses.

Intensification of the rocket offensive by Hamas – April and May 2007

•  On Israeli Independence Day in April 2007, Hamas rocket squads launched a renewed rocket barrage on Israel .

•  Again, Israel did not respond militarily. But it warned that it could not stay passive indefinitely, while its citizens were under ceaseless attack.

•  And in May 2007 the rocket attacks became still more intensive. Over 100 rockets were fired at Sderot in the week beginning 13 May.

The rocket attacks and the Hamas-Fatah conflict

•  Hamas is involved in conflict with the other main Palestinian grouping, Fatah. And heavy violence flared between them that week.

•  Most Israeli commentators explain that the further upsurge of rocket attacks against Sderot has been caused because Hamas wishes to draw Israel into the conflict, and distract international attention away from the chaos and violence within Palestinian society.

Israel responds and invokes the right of self-defence

•  On Thursday 17 May, Israel commenced military action against Hamas in order to stop the rocket attacks.

•  Israeli tanks entered North Gaza , to drive back the rocket squads. And it launched so-called targeted airstrikes against Hamas offices, and rocket launching networks.

•  Palestinian non-combatants were killed. Israel maintained it was trying to minimise civilian casualties, and that responsibility for those casualties lay with Hamas itself, and the Palestinian leadership.

•  Israel declared that it was acting in legitimate self-defence, and that “enough was enough” – it could no longer remain passive in the face of the attacks on its citizens.

•  Israel is now being portrayed as being “on the offensive”, and “piling on the misery” for the Palestinians of Gaza.

•  But its response has been taken reluctantly as a last-resort measure to defend Israeli citizens, and to show Hamas that it can no longer attack with impunity.

A ‘cycle of violence'?

•  There is no cycle of violence between Israel and the Gaza Palestinians. For months, Israel did not respond to the further rocket attacks.

•  Hamas strategy is one of sabotage: sabotage of a two-state solution, sabotage of stability and sabotage of efforts to rebuild Palestinian society.