Just as the last remaining Israeli troops left Gaza yesterday, Palestinians resumed smuggling through tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt, showing that Hamas’s supply corridor for weapons might again be functioning despite being the target for hundreds of Israeli shells.
Severing Hamas’s supply line, along with stopping cross-border rocketing, was a goal of the devastating three-week military campaign that ended on Monday. But the arrangements for how to do that are still being worked out in talks between Israel and Egypt, which are to continue today with the visit of Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defence ministry official, to Cairo.
In Rafah, on the Egyptian border, bulldozers yesterday cleared debris and Palestinian workers carried out repairs on tunnels damaged by Israeli bombing.
Smugglers were filmed filling a fuel truck with petrol that had come through a cross-border tunnel. Israel has said it destroyed most of the hundreds of tunnels used to bring goods and weaponry into Gaza. The identity of some people who witnessed the smuggling activity could not be revealed for fear of reprisals from militants and smugglers.
“I saw them bring up fuel from one of the tunnels which is still working,” said a Rafah resident who witnessed the activity. Egypt has proved unable or unwilling to halt the flow of weapons and medium-range rockets coming through the tunnels, alongside fuel and consumer goods.
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, was heading to Brussels yesterday after getting the green light from legal advisers to the Israeli government, who had been concerned she would face war crimes allegations. She was hoping to clinch a deal committing the European Union to contribute forces, ships and technology to anti-smuggling operations. But EU officials said their efforts would focus on providing humanitarian relief and maintaining the ceasefire.
Meanwhile, Hamas admitted yesterday that it had executed an unspecified number of Palestinians for “spying” for Israel during the war. “The occupation has depended on some spies here in Gaza to inform them of the situation of Hamas leaders,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told reporters in Gaza. “Maybe some of them were killed because they were acting against the population, against the resistance.”
Mr Barhoum said there was “some investigation and interrogation” regarding last week’s assassination of the Hamas interior minister Sayid Siyam, which the Islamist group believes was made possible by spies working for Israel.
Fatah, the rival Palestinian group which governs the West Bank, said that since fighting ended in the Gaza war – Hamas and Israel put separate ceasefires into effect on Sunday – Hamas militias had carried out a number of attacks against Fatah members in Gaza. These included, the Fatah statement said, “shooting at the feet of Fatah members, brutal crimes of execution and throwing the bodies in the rubble of destruction”. Fatah appealed to Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to intervene.
The Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, moved swiftly from war-making to electioneering yesterday, saying the fighting had given voters – who go to the polls to choose a new parliament on 10 February – a glimpse of the type of leadership they need.
“We have similar tests awaiting us: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. It isn’t over yet. These subjects have not been cleared from the table,” he said.
Meanwhile, troubling questions have arisen over the Israeli army’s conduct during the war, which claimed the lives of 1,284 Palestinians, including 894 civilians and 280 children, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
Thirteen Israelis were killed by Hamas rocket fire or during fighting inside the Strip.
An Israeli army investigation into its use of white phosphorus in Gaza is focusing on an incident in which 20 shells containing the substance were fired into a populated area, Ha’aretz newspaper revealed. Reports said the incident occurred in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.
White phosphorus is a high-incendiary substance that burns intensely for long periods and is often used to create smoke screens, but can also be used as a weapon, resulting in extreme burns.
Two Palestinian children were killed and 14 people suffered severe burns on 17 January when Israeli shells landed in a UN-run school in the Beit Lahiya area, medical officials said. Ha’aretz said a brigade of paratroop reservists fired about 20 white phosphorus shells into the built-up area.
Amnesty International has accused Israel of war crimes over its use of the munitions in heavily populated areas.
According to the newspaper report, the Israeli military fired a total of 200 white phosphorus shells during the three-week Gaza offensive. Ha’aretz reported that 180 of the shells targeted militants launching cross-border rocket attacks.
International law forbids white phosphorus use against military targets within concentrations of civilians, except when the targets are clearly separated from them and “all feasible precautions” are taken to avoid casualties among non-combatants. An Israeli army spokesman confirmed that a high-ranking officer had been appointed to investigate the accusation.