Israeli offensive in Gaza was years in the making
JERUSALEM (AP) — With little notice, Israel has launched a blistering air offensive against the Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas militant group. Here's a look at why the violence erupted, the goals of the warring sides and how it may end:
Lightning Strike: Israel opened its offensive with a surprise airstrike on Nov. 14 that killed the shadowy leader of Hamas' military wing. Since then, it has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in what it says is a systematic campaign to halt years of rocket attacks launched from Gaza. While Israel claims to have inflicted heavy damage, dozens of rockets have continued to fly out of Gaza each day.
Why Now? Israel launched the operation in response to days of rocket attacks out of Gaza, highlighted by a rare missile strike on an Israeli military jeep that wounded four soldiers. But the operation was actually years in the making. Since a previous Israeli offensive four years ago, Hamas has restocked its arsenal with more sophisticated and powerful weapons smuggled in from Egypt through underground tunnels. After a lull following Israel's previous offensive, rocket fire has steadily climbed the past two years. The Israeli military says more than 700 rockets were launched into Israel this year before it launched the offensive last week. In this environment, Israeli officials have said it was only a matter of time before a new round of fighting broke out.
The battlefield: Hamas seized control of Gaza, a densely populated strip of land sandwiched between southern Israel and Egypt's Sinai desert, five years ago from the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, a militant group sworn to Israel's destruction, has developed its rocket arsenal to the point where nearly half of Israel's population is in range.