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    Glossary of Key Terms and Events in Israel's History
Gaza Operation/Operation Cast Lead   

Beginning in 2000, Hamas launched thousands of rockets against cities in Israel's south, well inside the internationally accepted borders of the State of Israel established in 1948. The rocket attacks worsened following Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza and Hamas' violent take over of the Gaza Strip in June 2007,  Hamas temporarily lessened its rocket attacks following an Egyptian-brokered six-month "period of calm" in June 2008. However, as this period drew to a close, Hamas began to once again fire rockets and mortars into Sderot, Ashkelon, and other densely populated centers in Israel's south, launching more than sixty rockets on December 25, alone.

On December 27, 2008, in response to eight years of barrages of rockets and missiles launched by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza Israel began its military operations in Gaza. In light of the unceasing attacks, Israel felt it had no choice but to act against Hamas and eliminate its operational capabilities. As then Presidential candidate Barak Obama said when he visited the beleaguered town of Sderot in July 2008, "If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that."

During the three-week operation, Israel's military action targeted the Hamas terrorist infrastructure, including Hamas operational centers, storage depots, workshops, production facilities, smuggling tunnels, rocket launching sites and Hamas gunmen.

During the operation, Hamas launched hundreds of rockets on Israel with increasingly further reach.  On January 6, 2009, rockets hit the central Israeli city of Gadera, putting over 900,000 Israeli civilians living within range of Hamas rocket attacks. 

While every military operation is difficult, the Israel Defense Forces faced particular challenges in Gaza. Hamas deliberately placed its operational centers in densely populated neighborhoods.  Hamas leadership headquarters were bunkered beneath a major Gaza hospital.  Rockets were launched against Israeli targets from locations near apartment houses, schools, mosques and hospitals.  Hamas stashed weapons in houses, schoolyards, mosques.     The IDF, following its own internal ethics guidelines and rules of engagement, required its forces to make  every effort to limit civilian casualties under these very challenging conditions.  The IDF conducted investigations of IDF forces during the operation and concluded that:

    …throughout the fighting in Gaza, the IDF operated in accordance with international law.  The IDF maintained a high professional and moral level while facing an enemy that aimed to terrorize Israeli civilians whilst taking cover amidst uninvolved civilians in the Gaza Strip and using them as human shields.  Notwithstanding, the investigations revealed a very small number of incidents in which intelligence or operational errors took place during the fighting.  These unfortunate incidents were unavoidable and occur in all combat situations, in particular of the type which Hamas forced on the IDF, by choosing to fight from within the civilian population.

Throughout the operation Israel also undertook to ensure the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.  Israeli government officials met regularly with representatives from the United Nations and humanitarian organizations to ensure that Gazans were provided with the necessary aid, food and medical supplies.

On January 17, Israel announced it was unilaterally ending its operation in Gaza. Israel's decision to undertake this unilateral cease fire followed the January 16 signing of a Memorandum of Understanding Between The United States and Israel Regarding Prevention of the Supply of Arms and Related Materiel to Terrorist Groups. The MOU, signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Washington D.C., provided Israel with the assurance that the United States will be a partner in preventing the flow of arms and military equipment to Hamas. Following these guarantees, Israel agreed to a one-week cease fire to enable negotiators to work out firm guidelines for ending Hamas' smuggling of weaponry into Gaza, and guarantees to stop Hamas rocket fire into Israel. By January 21, all Israeli troops had left Gaza.  As of this writing, no formal cease fire agreement has been reached between Israel and Hamas.

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