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Israel to appropriate 400 hectares in West Bank for ‘state use’

Israel announces ‘largest land appropriation for 30 years’ just days after the Gaza ceasefire agreed

Israel has announced plans to expropriate 400 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank in a move Palestinian officials claim will cause more friction after the Gaza conflict.

The announcement concerning land south of Bethlehem, inside what Israelis call the Etzion bloc of settlements, comes after Israel determined the land was not cultivated with enough intensity for the Palestinians to maintain their ownership rights.

Signs have already been posted on the land by military administrators saying “state land – no trespassing”. Dror Etkes, head of the Kerem Navot NGO which specialises in West Bank land issues, said: “There is enough territory for a very big settlement with thousands of units.”

The notice published by the military gave no reason for the decision, but Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers in the area in June.

The United States has criticised the annoucement and branded it counter-productive to peace efforts.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said. “This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” the official said in Washington.

Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.

Danny Dayan, a settler leader, denied that rightful owners would be dispossessed, stressing that people with a claim can lodge an appeal within 45 days.

Other settler leaders praised the land declaration as an appropriate response to the murder of three Israeli teens. “The goal of the murderers of the three youths was to sow fear and disrupt our living routine and our answer is strengthening settlement and building,’’ Davidi Perl, head of the local settlements council, said.

In Israel’s view, building in the area would not constitute a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one, Alon Shvut.

Construction of a major settlement at the location, known as “Gevaot”, has been mooted by Israel since 2000. Last year, the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site.

Peace Now said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s. A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.

Israel has been long criticised by the international community for its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. “This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” Abu Rdainah said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off peace talks with Abbas in April after the Palestinian leader reached a reconciliation deal with Hamas, the Islamist movement that dominates the Gaza Strip.

In a series of remarks after an open-ended ceasefire halted a seven-week-old Gaza genocide on Tuesday, Netanyahu repeated his position that Abbas would have to sever his alliance with Hamas for a peace process with Israel to resume.

Israel has said construction at Gevaot would not constitute the establishment of a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one, Alon Shvut, several miles down the road.

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory that the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

 

 Why Israel’s bombardment of Gaza neighborhood left US officers ‘stunned’

 

Analysis: Military sources say Pentagon’s assessment of Shujaiya shelling alarmed even Secretary of State John Kerry

 

by Mark Perry

 

Al Jazeera America      August 27, 2014 4:00AM ET

The cease-fire announced Tuesday between Israel and Palestinian factions — if it holds — will end seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,200 Gazans and 69 Israelis. But as the rival camps seek to put their spin on the outcome, one assessment of Israel’s Gaza operation that won’t be publicized is the U.S. military’s. Though the Pentagon shies from publicly expressing judgments that might fall afoul of a decidedly pro-Israel Congress, senior U.S. military sources speaking on condition of anonymity offered scathing assessments of Israeli tactics, particularly in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City.

One of the more curious moments in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge came on July 20, when a live microphone at Fox News caught U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commenting sarcastically on Israel’s military action. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry said. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.”

Rain of high-explosive shells

Kerry’s comment followed the heaviest bombardment of the war to that point, as Israeli artillery rained thousands of high-explosive shells on Shujaiya, a residential area on the eastern edge of Gaza City. A high-ranking U.S. military officer said that the source of Kerry’s apparent consternation was almost certainly a Pentagon summary report assessing the Israeli barrage on which he had been briefed by an aide moments earlier.

According to this senior U.S. officer, who had access to the July 21 Pentagon summary of the previous 24 hours of Israeli operations, the internal report showed that 11 Israeli artillery battalions — a minimum of 258 artillery pieces, according to the officer’s estimate — pumped at least 7,000 high explosive shells into the Gaza neighborhood, which included a barrage of some 4,800 shells during a seven-hour period at the height of the operation. Senior U.S. officers were stunned by the report.

Twice daily throughout the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) operation, a select group of senior U.S. military and intelligence officers at the Pentagon received lengthy written summaries of Israeli military action in Gaza. The reports — compiled from information gleaned from open sources, Israeli military officers with whom U.S. officials speak and satellite images — offered a detailed assessment of Israel’s battlefield tactics and the performance of its weaponry, a considerable portion of it supplied by the United States.

Although these reports shy from offering political judgments on the operation, a number of senior U.S. military officers who spoke about the contents of those daily reports were highly critical of some of the IDF’s tactics, particularly in the Israeli ground invasion of Shujaiya. An official spokesman at the Pentagon declined to comment on the contents of this article.

On July 16, the IDF dropped leaflets into Shujaiya, warning residents of an imminent Israeli attack and urging them to evacuate the area. The next day, after a short artillery preparation, three IDF units, led by the Golani Brigade, began a ground assault into the neighborhood to destroy Hamas bunkers and break up Hamas formations.

‘Take off the gloves’

The incursion went well at first, with Golani soldiers meeting little resistance. But by late on Saturday afternoon, July 19, forward elements of the brigade were running head on into well-organized Hamas units, and some IDF formations were pinned down in vicious fighting in Shujaiya’s streets and alleys. What had been envisaged as a limited ground operation was not going as planned, with Hamas units emerging from tunnels and bunkers in attempts to exploit IDF weaknesses. The Hamas units were well prepared and trained, with their formations hidden so well that Israeli soldiers were rarely able to pinpoint their locations.

“The ground assault was poorly handled into eastern Gaza City,” an Israel civilian adviser to the IDF’s chief of staff said at the time. “The Hamas fighters showed an unexpected tenacity and were far more effective against our armored units than we’d anticipated.”

By late Saturday night and into Sunday morning, the fight had devolved into a series of vicious small unit clashes, with IDF squads facing off against Hamas squads, sniper units and teams carrying lethal anti-tank rockets. In one eight-hour period starting early on July 20, the IDF suffered 13 dead, seven of them in an armored personnel carrier that caught fire after a Hamas sapper team detonated an anti-tank mine beneath it. When the IDF moved to retrieve the bodies and the stricken APC, Hamas fighters targeted the rescue vehicles and engaged in gun battles with IDF combat teams as the rescue convoy retreated.

In the early hours of that Sunday morning, with IDF casualties mounting, senior officers directed IDF tank commanders to “take off the gloves” and “to open fire at anything that moves,” according to reports in the Israeli press.

The three Israeli units assaulting Shujaiya were never in danger of being defeated, but the losses the IDF suffered in the four-day house-to-house battle embarrassed IDF commanders. By the afternoon of July 19, even before Israel had suffered most of its casualties, the scale of resistance prompted Israeli battlefield commanders to blanket Shujaiya with high-explosive artillery rounds, rockets fired from helicopters and bombs dropped by F-16s. The decision was confirmed at the highest levels of the IDF.

By Sunday night, Palestinian officials were denouncing the bombardment of Shujaiya as a massacre, and international pressure mounted on the Israeli government to explain the heavy casualty toll being inflicted on Gaza civilians. The IDF told the press that Shujaiya had been a “fortress for Hamas terrorists” and reiterated that while Israel had “warned civilians” to evacuate, “Hamas ordered them to stay. Hamas put them in the line of fire.”

Kerry’s hot-microphone comments reflect the shock among U.S. observers at the scale and lethality of the Israeli bombardment.

“Eleven battalions of IDF artillery is equivalent to the artillery we deploy to support two divisions of U.S. infantry,” a senior Pentagon officer with access to the daily briefings said. “That’s a massive amount of firepower, and it’s absolutely deadly.” Another officer, a retired artillery commander who served in Iraq, said the Pentagon’s assessment might well have underestimated the firepower the IDF brought to bear on Shujaiya. “This is the equivalent of the artillery we deploy to support a full corps,” he said. “It’s just a huge number of weapons.”

Artillery pieces used during the operation included a mix of Soltam M71 guns and U.S.-manufactured Paladin M109s (a 155-mm howitzer), each of which can fire three shells per minute. “The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible,” said the senior U.S. military officer. “It’s not mowing the lawn,” he added, referring to a popular IDF term for periodic military operations against Hamas in Gaza. “It’s removing the topsoil.”

“Holy bejeezus,” exclaimed retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard when told the numbers of artillery pieces and rounds fired during the July 21 action. “That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.” A West Point graduate who is a veteran of two wars and is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., he added that even if Israeli artillery units fired guided munitions, it would have made little difference.

Even the most sophisticated munitions have a circular area of probability, Gard explained, with a certain percentage of shells landing dozens or even hundreds of feet from intended targets. Highly trained artillery commanders know this and compensate for their misses by firing more shells. So if even 10 percent of the shells fired at combatants in Shujaiya landed close to but did not hit their targets — a higher than average rate of accuracy — that would have meant at least 700 lethal shells landing among the civilian population of Shujaiya during the night of July 20 into June 21. And the kill radius of even the most precisely targeted 155-mm shell is 164 feet. Put another way, as Gard said, “precision weapons aren’t all that precise.”

Senior U.S. officers who are familiar with the battle and Israeli artillery operations, which are modeled on U.S. doctrine, assessed that, given that rate of artillery fire into Shujaiya, IDF commanders were not precisely targeting Palestinian military formations as much as laying down an indiscriminate barrage aimed at cratering the neighborhood. The cratering operation was designed to collapse the Hamas tunnels discovered when IDF ground units came under fire in the neighborhood. Initially, said the senior Pentagon officer, Israel’s artillery used “suppressing fire to protect their forward units but then poured in everything they had, in a kind of walking barrage. Suppressing fire is perfectly defensible. A walking barrage isn’t.”

That the Israelis explained the civilian casualty toll by saying the neighborhood’s noncombatant population had been ordered to stay in their homes and were used as human shields by Hamas reinforced the belief among some senior U.S. officers that artillery fire into Shujaiya was indiscriminate.

“Listen, we know what it’s like to kill civilians in war,” said the senior U.S. officer. “Hell, we even put it on the front pages. We call it collateral damage. We absolutely try to minimize it, because we know it turns people against you. Killing civilians is a sure prescription for defeat. But that’s not what the IDF did in Shujaiya on July 21. Human shields? C’mon, just own up to it.”

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/8/26/israel-bombing-stunsusofficers.html

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