• Beiteinu party up in polls as calls grow for tough line
- The Guardian, Saturday 27 December 2008
Support for Israel's ultra-nationalist rightwing parties is growing as the Jewish state and Hamas, the Islamists who rule Gaza, lurch closer to a major confrontation.
Polling published in several Israeli dailies yesterday showed rising support for Israel Beiteinu, which takes a hard line on Gaza and advocates transferring predominantly Arab towns in Israel to a future Palestinian state. The surge in support for the far right comes amid growing tensions in Gaza since the official end to a six-month ceasefire a week ago.
Yesterday, a rocket fired from Gaza at Israel accidentally struck a Gazan house, killing two Palestinian sisters, aged five and 13, and wounding a third, medics said.
Hamas had hoped the ceasefire would lead to the lifting of the blockade which Israel imposed 18 months ago to weaken the Islamists who took control of Gaza after ousting their more secular Fatah rivals from the territory following elections and a breakdown in power-sharing.
But while both Hamas and Israel have expressed an interest in renewing the ceasefire, they have retreated to military action and bellicose talk.
"Israeli threats won't make Hamas leaders fear, and won't break our stand. It is Israel who is responsible for the escalation," Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said.
Egypt, which brokered the truce and has called on both sides to refrain from violence, has reinforced security along its Gaza border fearing a confrontation.
Yesterday, Israel loosened its blockade on Gaza, ending an eight-day closure of its crossings into the besieged territory, ahead of a possible attack against the Palestinian militias.
Israel allowed the humanitarian delivery of fuel, food and clothing after the UN said it had run out of essential supplies including flour, cash, 100 critical medicines, surgical kits and other emergency food stocks. The UN also said that 60% of Gazans were receiving running water once every five to seven days due to a lack of fuel to run the power plant.
The wastewater treatment plant has also been unable to operate and as a result had doubled the amount of raw sewage it was siphoning into the Mediterranean to 40m litres a day.
Over the past three days, Hamas has pounded Israel's neighbouring southern townships with 36 rockets, 30 of which were fired on Wednesday, hitting a waterpark, a house and a factory. There were no serious casualties. The rest fell in open areas. Seventy mortars were also fired.
Israel attacked a rocket-launching site, killing one militant, on Wednesday but has refrained from further military strikes.
Growing support for the far right, in the lead-up to the February election, may have come at the expense of the Likud party, which is showing signs of losing ground as the frontrunner to Kadima, the ruling party. But with polls showing the Israeli public calling for harsher military strikes in Gaza, Likud's leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, is also expected to benefit from the darkening mood.
"The issues that we so much wanted to stress in this election campaign will be getting maximum attention even without our messages," Netanyahu told Ha'aretz newspaper.
Earlier this week, Israel's cabinet approved a possible operation that could last several days. "We have enormous power, we can do things which will be devastating and I keep restraining myself and keep restraining my friends all the time and I tell them: let's wait ... give them another chance," Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who will leave politics at the election as a result of an ongoing corruption investigation, told the Saudi owned al-Arabiya TV.