Tensions High 2 Years Since Launch Of Gaza War

It's been two years since the Gaza War was launched — and tensions are high on both sides of the border since a spate of tit-for-tat violence over the past few weeks. The head of Israel's military has warned the Israeli parliament that the border between Gaza and Israel is a tinderbox. Hamas says it's not responsible for the uptick in rocket attacks, but Israel says it's accountable for violence directed at Israel.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Around this time two years ago, the Gaza War erupted. Since then, the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip has been relatively quiet. But in the last week, we've seen an uptick in Palestinian rocket attacks. Twenty-six mortars and rockets have been fired at Israeli communities, and Israel has retaliated with airstrikes on suspected militant targets.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has this report on the rising tensions from both sides of the border.

Mr. GABO ALTMARK: So we are looking at one of the craters that the Qassam did.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gabo Altmark(ph) points out the hole the rocket left in a walkway, just near Kibbutz Zikim's school compound. It landed at about 7:30 in the morning, just when children were headed to the kindergarten. Most of the public buildings here are fortified in some way. Altmark says there have been many rocket attacks.

Mr. ALTMARK: For the last eight years that we are in this situation inside the kibbutz, around 20 - more or less. Yeah. And in the area, probably hundreds.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says things had calmed down after Israeli forces invaded the Gaza Strip two years ago.

Are you worried at the moment that things might be getting back to what they were before?

Mr. ALTMARK: Mm-hmm, yeah. Yeah, we are worried. For the last couple of weeks, the situation has been tense. Yeah, we are afraid. We think that maybe the things are going to get worse.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Gaza, Palestinians echo those fears. Mohammed Shamli(ph) says the continued rocket attacks will only lead to more conflict.

Mr. MOHAMMED SHAMLI: (Through Translator) I'm really afraid that another war will break out here. By firing rockets, they're giving the Israelis the excuse they need.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: During the Gaza War, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed. Human rights groups say most were civilians. Israel disputes that number, saying some 1,100 died, most of them militants. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.

It was a punishing war for the civilian population of Gaza. Homes and businesses were destroyed and the territory has yet to recover.

Hamas also suffered and, so says Gaza-based analyst Mukhaimer Abou Saada, Gaza's rulers don't want another war. He says the rockets are being launched by other Palestinian militant groups that are opposed to the informal ceasefire that's been in place since the war.

Mr. MUKHAIMER ABOU SAADA (Analyst): In the meantime, Hamas is not able to control some other Palestinian resistance groups, who are probably responsible for the launching of rockets and mortar shells against Israeli towns and villages.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Today, Hamas's foreign minister signaled that Hamas wants to defuse tensions. Mahmoud al-Zahar told a crowd of supporters after Friday prayers that, quote, "We are committed to self-restraint as long as there is no oppression and no aggression."

But Israeli military officials asserted this week that Palestinian groups fired an advanced Russian-made Cornet missile this month, damaging an IDF tank. Israel alleges it came from Iran. It's a new development. Hamas was not thought to have anti-tank capability.

In response to the new threat, Israel is deploying a special tank battalion to the Gaza border that's equipped to deal with anti-tank weapons.

Military spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovich says the enhanced Palestinian capability is a concern.

Major AVITAL LEIBOVICH (Spokeswoman, Israeli Army): If we started the year 2000 with a homemade rocket, that its range was six kilometers, today we're looking at 10 times more - not homemade rockets but improved rounds that can very well hit something like one-third of the population of Israel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And she says, Israel holds Hamas responsible.

Maj. LEIBOVICH: Hamas is accountable, as far as we understand, to any terror activity that is exiting Gaza to Israel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Analysts say that for now it's unlikely that a full-scale war will break out. But they warn, Israel is eyeing the improved weaponry in Gaza and weighing its options.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And from Gaza, Ahmed Abu Hamdah(ph) contributed to that report.

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