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Israel says its goal is to defang the militants by destroying their rocket stockpile. It accuses Hamas of hiding behind civilians, implanting weapons in schools and apartment blocks.
ABBAS IN SHADE
Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - a figure of ridicule for Hamas because he recognises Israel and has renounced violence - has called its leaders to express his solidarity and readiness to do his utmost to bring an end to Israeli military action.
Abbas is the leader of the Palestinian national movement and, for now, the embodiment of its aspirations of statehood. But he is put squarely in the shade by the Hamas spectacular in Gaza.
Shops and schools remain closed, but the few who are on the streets celebrate every time they hear the distinctive roar of the long-range rockets that could be heading to Tel Aviv.
“If we endured 22 days in the past war, we are today more ready to keep up for longer, and their soldiers will not,” said Abu Ubaida, spokesman of the Hamas armed wing Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades.
“This round of confrontation will not be the last against the Zionist enemy,” he said. Israeli claims to have badly damaged the military capability of the Qassam Brigades were “lies, propaganda and have no grain of truth”.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the movement’s members were “proud of our resistance and high-profile capability and a performance which surprised the enemy and struck deep”.
Still ahead, however, is the threat of another Israeli invasion, as in early January 2009. Hamas has no armour, no tanks. But it does now have some modern anti-tank missiles, and Hamas says it will surprise the Israeli army if it enters.
And even if the ground invasion comes, Palestinians sense that it will achieve nothing lasting for the Israelis.
“Hundreds of civilians may be killed if the Israelis invade,” says Ali Al-Ahmed. “But once they leave, rockets will follow them home, so they would fail.”