There was an unexpected addition to the Ramadan fireworks over the Palestinian City of Ramallah Saturday night as a rocket, apparently fired by Hamas in Gaza, crashed and exploded in the outskirts of the Palestinians’ “de facto capital.” It hit less than a kilometer from a VIP crossing used by the Palestinian Prime Minister and other senior Palestinian officials to enter and exit an Israeli-controlled zone.
The rocket, part of a wave of missiles launched about 9 p.m. Saturday at central Israel, landed at the side of the main road leading north out of the city. At least two vehicles appeared to have been damaged and burned. There were no reports of any casualties as Palestinian security forces clamped an immediate lid on the scene. An ambulance, however, arrived as this correspondent was ordered away from the site.
The notion that Palestinian militants in Gaza might fire on Palestinian authorities in Ramallah is certainly a new twist to the six-day rocket war being waged between Israel and militant Palestinian groups in Gaza led by Hamas.
But it’s not out of the question. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has blasted the Hamas leadership on two occasions this week for what he considers to be its irresponsible rocket attacks on Israel. The attacks, he said Friday night on a Hezbollah-connected television channel, incite Israel to fire on Gaza, killing innocent Palestinian civilians in the process.
“It is the Palestinians who are losing with every minute that this war continues,” Mr. Abbas said, describing the victims as “fuel to those who trade in war.”
“I oppose these traders, on both sides,” he said.
Hamas leaders denounced Mr. Abbas for his remarks, and tensions between the two sides are said to be rising. Just three months ago, Hamas and Mr. Abbas’s Fatah Party announced an agreement to form a unity government that would unify authority over the West Bank and Gaza Strip and take all Palestinians to new elections.
For a few hours on Saturday, it seemed that this conflict that has killed more than 130 Gazans might be receding. There were few announcements of alarms being sounded in Israeli cities.
Israeli army radio was playing the kind of sentimental nostalgic music it saves for Sabbath days in the middle of wars: Songs about soldiers yearning for home, assuring loved ones of their safety, fond memories of the country’s natural beauties.
One caller to the station requested a beloved Arik Einstein song in which the country’s most famous singer crooned that “maybe this is just a crisis that soon will pass.”
But it must be said that most Israelis were nowhere to be seen Saturday as the roads, even in and around Tel Aviv, were unusually light in traffic. The beach that runs the length of Tel Aviv, usually packed with people on a Saturday afternoon in July, was as bare as a cold day in December. Even the fish restaurants in the popular Arab waterfront neighbourhood of Jaffa were empty at lunch time.
“People are frightened” one lonely waiter said as he sat at one of his café’s own barstools. “It’s been a bad week.”
The relative quiet that prevailed most of the day came crashing to a halt about 5 p.m., however, as announcement after announcement of alarms being sounded were suddenly interrupting the music – “Azaka [meaning alarm] Tel Aviv,” “Azaka Rishon Letzion,” “Azaka Beersheva;” even “Azaka Lod,” just a few minutes after this correspondent and his colleague left that central Israeli town and its empty streets.
At about 7 p.m., an even bigger wave of rockets and accompanying alarms were sounded. Then at 9 p.m. came the biggest wave of all, announced in advance by Hamas, targeting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and, among other places, the Israeli settlement of Beit El, just north of Ramallah. Or should that have said “targeting Ramallah?”