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Halting Hamas

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" [Through] these cruel, wanton, indiscriminate bombings of London... He hopes, by killing large numbers of civilians, and women and children, that he will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty imperial city... Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fibre of the Londoners."

These words, spoken by prime minister Winston Churchill in September 1940, are but a distant memory to many British citizens today. And yet, they remind us of times when Londoners spent countless nights seeking cover from aerial attacks in shelters and tube stations.

In the years since Israel pulled out of Gaza, over one million Israelis have been forced to live under similar conditions, seeking refuge in bomb shelters as a result of thousands of Hamas rocket and mortar attacks. While the rockets targeting Israeli civilians - men, women, and children - do not carry as deadly a payload as that of the German bombs of World War II, their aim is equally sinister and illegitimate: to instill fear in the hearts of Israelis and undermine their right to live in a free and independent state.

In recent months, over one seventh of Israel's population have found themselves within range of rocket fire, having to live their lives within 15-30 seconds of the closest bomb shelter in case the siren sounds. Children have been unable to attend school for extended periods, growing up experiencing the trauma of life in the danger zone. Showing remarkable courage and restraint in the face of this intolerable reality, these Israelis have tried to maintain a semblance of normalcy, while the Israeli government continued to hold out hope that a non-military resolution of the situation might be reached.

However, over time, not only have the assaults become more frequent, but the range of sophisticated rockets, smuggled in from Iran, Sudan and Libya, has increased. The Iranian-made Fajr 5 missile has a range of 75km, putting some 4.5 million people - over 50% of Israel's population - in the kill zone.

Last week, for the third time in a month, the civilians of southern Israel came under attack from the Gaza Strip. An anti-tank missile was fired at an army jeep on the Israeli side of the border fence, injuring four IDF soldiers. Subsequently, over 120 rockets were fired at Israeli civilians.

It was only following this sharp escalation that Israel embarked upon Operation Pillar of Defence in order to end the indiscriminate rocket barrage from Gaza and to cripple Hamas' ability to launch terror attacks on our citizens.

The need for action was clear, but any such operation is highly complex. Israel is painfully aware that Hamas not only directs its missile attacks against Israeli civilians but it also, cynically, hides its stockpiles and missile launchers behind Palestinian civilians. This creates an enormously difficult challenge for Israel, which has to defend its citizens while doing its utmost to avoid injuring the innocent Palestinians being used as shields by the terrorists. Israel devotes
enormous effort to these challenges. These efforts include using, where possible, the Israeli developed 'Iron Dome' technology to intercept rockets in flight, and dropping thousands of leaflets and making tens of thousands of phone calls, urging Palestinian civilians to leave areas of Hamas activity for their own safety. Moreover, refusing to ignore the plight of Gaza's civilian population, which suffers under the yoke of Hamas rule, Israel has transferred nearly 100 trucks loaded with food and medical supplies into Gaza since the operation began and has also afforded medical treatment to 26 Gazans who are being cared for in Israeli hospitals.

To date the operation has dealt a serious blow to the Hamas terrorist organization, including successfully targeting its military leadership and putting out of action a large proportion of the long-range missiles in the arsenal of Hamas and its fellow terrorist organisations.

This is in itself a significant success. But in itself it will not be sufficient to sustain a long term ceasefire and restore normal life to the citizens for Israel. For this to happen, Hamas itself must recognise that terrorising Israelis will no longer be tolerated, by Israel or the international community.