Israeli Warplanes Strike Target in Gaza Strip
CNN Newsnight with Aaron Brown
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening everyone. This page is short tonight. News has been breaking, and it is the kind of news that leads to more news. And the worst of it is, all of the news is bad.
There has been a while, but we're going to begin tonight with the Middle East. It was an Israeli F-16. A missile hit some buildings. We'll get into the details in a moment. But it seems clear that either the planning was horrible, or that the missile missed his target, or the Israelis simply didn't care who they killed if they got their man, a Hamas military leader.
At the risk of provoking an e-mail barrage, we reject the latter possibility. We don't believe the Israeli government would risk killing a couple of hundred people in order to maybe-maybe-get one guy.
But, of course, some people will believe that. In the same way some people who support Israel will believe anything bad about Palestinians, some Palestinians will believe anything evil about Israel. It is just one of the many reasons the tragedy of the Middle East is the most maddening story for us to report.
It is not our nature to assume the absolute worst about any people, and we're not going to do that here. Others may. No, what we will do is what we always do. We will look for facts and we will report them as we find them. And the facts alone tonight aren't going to make anyone-anyone-feel very good.
"The Whip" begins in the Middle East, the attack and the likely reaction.
Matthew Chance has the latest.
Matt, the headline from you tonight, please.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Once again, Aaron, the region plunged into violence and bloodshed, and an Israeli warplane strike against the Hamas target in the Gaza Strip. Confusion, though, Aaron, over whether the target was hit or not.
BROWN: Matthew, thank you. We'll be back with you in a moment.
It is a very full hour. We begin in the Middle East. An Israeli airstrike, a possible Palestinian response, and what is looking like another bad week in the Middle East-but, then, what constitutes a good one there?
This morning the story was Israeli and Palestinian negotiations. Some sort of Israeli troop pullback possible in the West Bank, and just maybe Hamas might stop the suicide bombings.
Events tonight take us in a different direction. One step forward, two steps back, that's life in the Middle East.
We go back to Jerusalem with CNN's Matthew Chance.
CHANCE: Well hopes, Aaron, that there could be some kind of peace on the move have been shattered as a result of this latest violence, this latest bloodshed. This time in the Gaza Strip at the hands of the Israeli military carrying out F-16 strikes against what they say was a terror target inside the Gaza Strip. Targeting their number one public enemy, Sheikh Salah Shehadeh, the military commander of the militant group Hamas, responsible, of course, they say, for hundreds of attacks against Israelis, the suicide attacks, the shootings. They say they are determined to fight.
The end result, though, a lot of carnage on the streets of Gaza. At least 12 people killed, about 150 injured.
(voice-over): As the Palestinian death total rises, the scenes are provoking public shock and the wrath of militant groups.
In addition to the dead, which includes a number of children, hospital officials say as many as 150 people have been injured. Witnesses say three buildings collapsed after the airstrike.
Israel's military says its most wanted man was the target. Sheikh Salah Shehadeh, the military commander of Hamas in Gaza, responsible for hundreds of attacks against Israelis, including suicide bombings, the army insists is now dead.
But Palestinians say they've pulled only the bodies of his wife and children from the rubble.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sharon succeed in killing kids and killing innocent women and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and demolishing houses by the American F-16, but he failed in assassinating Sheikh Salah Shehadeh.
CHANCE: So the Palestinians, Aaron, saying they have no evidence at this stage that the intended target of the Israeli strike has actually been killed. They say they have not yet pulled his body from the rubble.
Israel says that any attempt to say they did not succeed in taking out this Hamas military commander is merely an attempt to try and create an image around him of invulnerability.
Whatever the truth, whether he's dead or alive, Hamas, the militant group, have already vowed more revenge attacks against Israelis, Aaron.
BROWN: Well, setting aside for a second what the Israelis say about the Hamas military guy and whether he's dead or alive-setting that aside what, if anything, did the Israelis say about the fact that 150 people, presumably many of them only innocents in all of this, have been hurt, and 10 people or more have been killed?
CHANCE: Well, they haven't had any comment so far on the civilian casualties of this strike. But obviously this is something that's provoking a great deal of outrage on the streets of Gaza amongst the Palestinian community and amongst the international community at large, of course.
This was a strike, perhaps a pinpoint strike, a targeted assassination, that seems to have gone wrong in some way. As I say, hospital officials say at least 12 people have now been killed, confirmed dead as a result of this attack, including the wife and three children of the Hamas military commander, 150 others injured, Aaron.
BROWN: OK Matt, thank you. Matthew Chance in Jerusalem reporting on the Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Thank you.
That is not the only violence in the Middle East tonight. A firefight erupted in the town of Rafah on the southern tip of Gaza right at that point where Gaza meets Egypt.
CNN's John Vause is there. And John joins us by phone. John, what can you tell us?
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Israeli border post. It's a small border post here which patrols that border between Egypt and Gaza. A few hours after the airstrike on Gaza City, a fairly intensive firefight erupted here.
This border post is attacked almost nightly, but tonight it was a sustained, ferocious attack which lasted for two-and-a-half hours, during which the base commander was taken quite by surprise-it took him quite by surprise.
There were dozens of grenades. There were anti-tank missiles. There was stutter (ph) fire and small arms fire. As I said, it lasted for several hours.
At one stage the base commander here feared that the outpost would, in fact, be overrun by Palestinians. He feared the anti-tank missiles would take out a wall of this post. He then called in some heavy armor. He called in an Israeli tank and a specially reinforced armored APC. They fired several rounds into the Rafah camp, the Rafah city, and then the Palestinians fled.
But as I said, this was a very ferocious firefight, and something which they don't see here all that often. They certainly are making the assumption that the Palestinians were, in the words of the base commander here, "highly motivated" after the attack on Gaza City, Aaron.
BROWN: John, thank you. Be safe out there. John Vause on the tip of Gaza tonight.
More on the Middle East now. We're joined from Philadelphia by Mideast scholar Daniel Pipes. It's good to see you again. What do you make of the events today? This is a difficult-this is going to be difficult, I would think, for the Israelis to deal with.
DANIEL PIPES, MIDDLE EAST FORUM: It certainly is. The Israelis have clearly made a mistake, and need to be more careful. It's a tragedy. We must all urge the Israelis to approach these problems more carefully.
That said, it is also important to realize that the Palestinians have the moral opprobrium here in having the leaders of their military in civilian areas. There is no distinction, and they are making it I think on purpose a target for the Israelis so that when the Israelis do strike, it's likely that they will have civilian casualties.
So, the Israelis have got to be more careful, but the Palestinians are not playing fair. You don't put your military men in houses with children.
BROWN: Well, the guy-I want to understand this because this strikes me a bit of a stretch. You got a guy apparently at home with his wife and children. Now, other than walking around the streets with a target on his back, what is it he's supposed to be doing?
PIPES: Military installations in the Palestinian areas are consistently found in civilian areas. So, what one finds all the time is the Israelis are trying very hard to avoid taking-inflicting casualties and sometimes even taking themselves.
You remember, a few months ago, some 13 Israelis were killed because they fell into a booby trap. So, it happens both ways. I mean, I'm in no way apologizing for what the Israelis have done today. I'm just saying there's a context, and it's one which is tragic.
But it's one in which this man, Salah Shehadeh, has a very important role. He is one of the founders of the military wing of Hamas. He was in Israeli jail for 14 years, from 1984 to 1998. He's a close associate of the leader of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin. He's been, as was indicated earlier, on the top of the Israelis' most wanted list for some months now. The Israelis did blow up his house actually in December of last year. He is their target and he is, as I said before, and I think it's fair to say, he's making sure that he's surrounded by his wife, his children and other civilians.
BROWN: Would you agree that the end results of this, whether it was a good move, bad move, stupid, however, the end result of this is simply going to be more violence on both sides, that that is the natural outcome of this sort of event?
PIPES: No. I think I disagree, Aaron. Because I don't think it's a state of peace that's interrupted by the occasional, you know, spasmodic event of violence. I think there's a war taking place and there are occasional lulls in that war. And the key question is not when is the next act of violence going take place. The key question is who is winning this war, who is losing this war, what are the implications of that. It's a war.
We just heard from John Vause about a firefight. This is war. And we should expect more violence. We shouldn't expect that just when there's nothing happening, that's the normal state. No, that's a lull between battles in this war. And it's a war that has been going on now for almost two years, since September of the year 2000.
BROWN: Professor, it's always good to talk to you. Thank you.
PIPES: Thank you.
BROWN: It's a difficult story to report for us tonight. Thank you, sir. Daniel Pipes in Philadelphia.
That's the Middle East. We'll keep an eye on that as the hour goes along. If we hear from the Israeli government, we'll be reporting on that too.
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