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Who broke the ceasefire?

In line with a lot of the mainstream media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, the New York Times editorial on 30 December argued: “Hamas must bear responsibility for ending a six-month cease-fire this month with a barrage of rocket attacks into Israeli territory.”

However, this not only contradicted earlier reportage by Israeli newspapers (including Ha’aretz and Yediot Ahronot) and Amnesty International, but also that of the NYT itself: on 12 November, the paper reported that: “At least six Palestinian militants were killed in a clash and an Israeli airstrike on Nov. 4 after an Israeli force entered Gaza for the first time in five months.” Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel.

Media accounts

The BBC wrote about the ceasefire (which began on 19 June) on 23 December: “Israel says Palestinian rocket fire did not stop completely, weapons smuggling through tunnels from Egypt continued and no progress was made on the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

“Hamas complains that Israel did not lift its embargo on the entry to Gaza of virtually all but basic humanitarian supplies.

“Violence began to escalate again after 4 November, when Israel launched an incursion targeting what it said was a tunnel which could be used to abduct soldiers.”

The Guardian was more straightforward, reporting on 5 November: “Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen”.

Rory McCarthy wrote: “A four-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy today after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory. “Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured. The violence represented the most serious break in a ceasefire agreed in mid-June.”

Rate of fire

BBC presenter Robin Lustig obtained the following figures from the Israeli government on 6 January. From 1 January 2008 until the ceasefire, more than 3,100 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza. During the period 19 June-4 November, 50 rockets were fired. Only 4 rockets were fired in September and October.

The rate of rocket fire dropped from 564 per month to 2 per month just before the Israeli raid. The 4 November attack provoked Hamas retaliation, giving Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak the pretext he was seeking to launch the attack he had been planning for half-a-year – before the ceasefire came into effect.