GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Israeli army on Friday withdrew from central Gaza Strip after intense fighting aimed at securing the release of a captured Israeli soldier.
The Gaza Strip remains ringed by Israeli tanks and troops, and Israeli forces bombed the offices of Hamas lawmakers, destroyed a bridge and fired a tank shell that killed one Palestinian on Friday.
Meantime, despite a sense of pride in the military actions of Hezbollah in Lebanon, residents of Gaza have first-hand knowledge Israel’s military might and a sense of foreboding for their counterparts in Lebanon.
What is the scene and the mood like in Gaza?
The Palestinians in Gaza have been emboldened by what Hezbollah did to the Israelis. The killing of eight Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two of them has really emboldened the Hamas government here. But, before Hezbollah’s actions just over 48 hours, it seemed that the Israeli stranglehold on Gaza was having some effect.
Conditions here are frankly miserable. There is almost no electricity, almost no one is working, there is almost no income coming in and it’s become a barter society. The constant Israeli artillery going on day and night for the last two weeks seemed to be taking its toll.
Many observers believed that a compromise with Hamas and the Israeli government was not too far down the road. There was a belief that Hamas would agree to give the soldier it kidnapped back and stop sending rockets into Israel; and in return, Israel would open up the gates, and start giving Hamas the money it owes the Palestinian people so they could put people back to work.
That all went out the window 48 hours ago when Hezbollah snatched the two Israeli soldiers. Even if Hamas wanted to compromise right now, they could not do it in the face of what their Hezbollah brothers have done.
So we are at a stalemate here and that’s the best way to describe what’s happening in Gaza right now.
How are ordinary civilians dealing with the difficulties?
I’ve been to Gaza many times in the last decade and there is a misery factor here at this time that I’ve never seen before.
The fishing boats are on their sides and haven’t left the ports. The people are listless. There is no liveliness in the streets. The Israeli predator drones can be heard overhead.
So there is a fear here. The Israelis have taken the gloves off when it comes to striking individual residences because they know that Hamas now holds meetings away from government buildings. So the Israelis are trying to kill Hamas officials wherever they are.
So the misery index is as high I’ve ever seen it.
For the ordinary civilians is there anything they can do?
This is survival. It has become a barter society. There are workers in the hotel who are giving their labor because they get to take bread home at night, instead of money, so they can feed their children.
A lot of what was grown here was sold in Israel and now that money is not coming in. So people who grow vegetables are bartering those vegetables for diesel fuel so they can run generators to keep their refrigerators cold so they can store goat’s milk from the goats in their backyard. So things have become very primitive.
There are no lights in the city at night. Even at 10 o’clock today, an hour before prayers, there was almost no one on the streets.
Do the people in Gaza have fears for the Lebanese?
Clearly the might of the Israeli Army has now focused to the north, and not on Gaza. Not that it makes much difference because there are enough Israeli tanks here to keep everything buttoned up.
The last thing Israel wanted was to fight on two fronts. But, now given the opportunity, Israeli military commanders who have been planning a strike against Hezbollah for six years are seizing the opportunity to put those plans into action.
Since the Israeli military pulled out of southern Lebanon six years ago, Israeli military intelligence has watched Hezbollah build up their forces there. And forty-eight hours ago — even though it was sad to see eight Israeli soldiers killed and two kidnapped — it really was for the Israeli high command like hitting the lottery.
Now everything is on the table and they are pounding Hezbollah where we can’t even see it. They have a list of military targets they’ve been collecting for six years and now they are doing it.
So people in Gaza here are watching that. While they are happy here in Gaza that the attention is off of them and they are rejoicing that Hezbollah had a moment of military brilliance — if you look at it with cold, hard military logic — but they know that the squeeze is going to go on Lebanon like it started two weeks in earnest on Gaza.