Operation Rainbow (2004)
|Part of the Second Intifada|
Area of the conflict
|Israel (IDF)|| Hamas
|Commanders and leaders|
|Brigadier General Shmuel Zakkai|
|Casualties and losses|
|None||41 fighters killed
12 civilians killed
Operation Rainbow (In Hebrew, Mivtza Keshet Be-Anan, מבצע קשת בענן) was a military operation, which began on May 18, 2004 and ended on May 23, 2004 in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Israel's aim was to clear terrorist infrastructure, to find smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt and to kill militants responsible for the earlier deaths of 13 Israeli soldiers in guerrilla attacks. Israeli security sources said that operation was also aimed at preventing a shipment of Strela-2 (SA-7 Grail) shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, AT-3 Sagger anti-tank guided missiles, and other long-range rockets which are stored on the Egyptian side of the border from being smuggled through tunnels into the Gaza Strip.
Early 2004 
In response to a repeated shelling of Israeli communities with Qassam rockets and mortar shells from Gaza, the IDF operated mainly in Rafah – to search and destroy smuggling tunnels used by militants to obtain weapons, ammunition, fugitives, cigarettes, car parts, electrical goods, foreign currency, gold, drugs, and cloth from Egypt.
Raids in Rafah left many families homeless. Israel's official stance is that their houses were captured by militants and were destroyed during battles with IDF forces. Many of these houses are abandoned due to Israeli incursions and later destroyed. According to Human Rights Watch, over 1,500 houses were destroyed to create a large buffer zone in the city, many "in the absence of military necessity", displacing around sixteen thousand people.
Following the declaration of the disengagement plan by Ariel Sharon and as a response to suicide attacks on Erez crossing and Ashdod seaport (10 people were killed), the IDF launched a series of armored raids on the Gaza Strip (mainly Rafah and refugee camps around Gaza), killing about 70 Hamas militants.
On 22 March 2004, an Israeli helicopter gunship killed Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and on 17 April, after several failed attempts by Hamas to commit suicide bombings, his successor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi was killed by IDF helicopter gunship strike.
May events 
On May 11 and May 12, two M-113 armoured personnel carriers, one of Givati's Dolev combat engineering company and of the Combat Engineering Corps "Tunnels' Team", were destroyed by Palestinian militants. The two separate attacks, in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighbourhood and the Philadelphi Route near Rafah and the Egyptian border, claimed the lives of 11 soldiers.
In the Zeitoun incident, UNRWA ambulances were allegedly used by militants as transportation for themselves, and perhaps the bodily remains of Israeli soldiers dismembered in the explosion of armored personnel carriers carrying explosives to be used in destroying smuggling tunnels. A Reuters video shows armed militants boarding and being transported by a UNRWA ambulance. In his interview with Haaretz, Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also said that UNRWA's ambulances were used by Palestinian militants in order to smuggle some of the remains of IDF soldiers killed in Zeitoun neighbourhood in Gaza on May 11, 2004. UNRWA confirmed the incident and offered the explanation that the militants forced the driver to take them, but denied they carried body parts.
The operation 
On May 18, Israeli Defence Forces, mounted in IDF Achzarit heavy armoured personnel carriers and tanks, backed up by helicopter gunships entered Rafah from the north-eastern Tel-Sultan neighbourhood, after sealing off the entire area in order to prevent movement of miltants into and out of Rafah.
Israeli IDF Caterpillar D9 armoured bulldozers erected sand-barriers around Rafah to isolate it. Later, the D9s entered into the Rafah in order to detonate booby traps, open routes and demolish houses used by militants.
The IDF and the Israeli government have considered widening the Philadelphi Route (buffer zone), in order to allow the digging of a moat which would block the excavation of tunnels in the future. As this would require the destruction of even more houses in the area than were destroyed to create the current buffer, the plan was abandoned in order to find a more humanitarian solution for the residents of southern Rafah.
During the operation, IDF forces arrested several wanted people and exchanged fire with militants. Several bombs and anti-tank missiles were fired against the armored fighting vehicles but caused no damage.
It is claimed that when Palestinian men responded to IDF calls over loudspeakers to turn themselves in to the IDF authorities for questioning, members of Palestinian militant organizations opened fire on them and killed two Palestinian children. A senior officer in Gaza reported that the IDF have in their possession pictures of this incident. The army has not published the pictures.
Most of the operation was focused on Tel Es-Sultan. This came as a surprise to Palestinians, as this area is relatively far from the border with Egypt. According to Palestinian sources, soldiers entered the area shortly after midnight, taking up positions on the rooftops. Only after the 3rd day of action did IDF forces enter the "Brazil" section.
On May 25, 2004, the IDF withdrew most of its forces out of Rafah and removed the blockade around it. However, there were still small IDF forces in Rafah, with the goal of pinpointing smuggling tunnels. On June 1 the operation officially ended.
Gaza District Coordinating Office Commander Yoav Mordechai was quoted Monday by Israel Radio as saying the IDF enabled Palestinians to receive food and medical equipment, and has fixed the water and electricity infrastructure in Rafah. He added that Palestinians had dug arms-smuggling tunnels inside mosques and schools and under children's beds in private homes. Mofaz said innocent people were hurt because the terrorists chose to operate in a dense population center, according to the report.
UNRWA, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees in the territories, also said that the IDF had destroyed a total of 155 buildings in Rafah over the past month, leaving 1,960 people homeless. It described the period as one of the most destructive in Rafah since a Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.
Protesters incident 
A group of Palestinians numbering several hundred approached Israeli military positions and armored vehicles. When called upon to stop, a smaller group continued to approach. Israeli troops fired tank shells in front of or toward the Palestinians. Approximately 10 Palestinians were killed. In a statement the army claimed the protesters included gunmen. Palestinian witnesses claim there were no armed people mingling with the protesters. Palestinian sources initially reported 22 dead and dozens injured. The number was later reduced to 10, a number confirmed by the Red Cross; however, the IDF claims only seven persons were killed, five armed men and two youths. Israeli officers accused the Palestinians of inflating the number of casualties for a greater international effect as was done by the Palestinian Authority in the Jenin.
This event caused outrage among Israeli left-wing activists and helped fuel an international outcry against the operation in Rafah, in a repetition of the effect of inflated claims after Jenin. The IDF issued a statement saying it is sorry for the death of any protesters but denying they deliberately shot them. The Israeli press reported that a tank shot four shells at an empty house in order to deter protesters from marching toward them. Apparently one shell missed and hit the protesters.
Another explanation being suggested by the IDF is that the shell triggered a chain of explosive charges, planted there a few days before by Palestinian militants. Palestinians consider such claims completely baseless. The IDF is investigating the incident.
As of May 23, 2004 only one smuggling tunnel had been found. That tunnel was loaded with explosives. Since then 2 more tunnels have been destroyed. Israel claims more than 40 militants have been killed and an unknown number wounded.
Pictures from Rafah show a devastated city: most of the roads were damaged due to explosive charges and the use of armored bulldozers to plow up the asphalt in order to expose and detonate explosives planted under the roads, thus clearing a way for armored fighting vehicles and troops. On some roads there are still sand barriers.
There are contradictory reports on the number of houses demolished. The U.N. relief agency UNRWA and other rights groups said the army had demolished some 180 homes. Later UNRWA changed their claims and said 45 houses were razed, leaving about 575 people homeless. Several UNRWA press releases contain numbers that vary significantly over the course of a few days. (See UNRWA) The Israeli Army reports 56 structures have been demolished. Additional structures have been damaged to varying degrees due to weapons fire.
Human rights group report on the harsh conditions in Rafah: in some places sewage and water pipes were damaged due to operations by bulldozers, resulting in floods and risk of disease. According to the IDF, Israel offered humanitarian aid and allowed NGOs and welfare organizations to enter Rafah and distribute food and medicine. Israeli supreme court chief judge professor Aharon Barak, praised the Israeli Defence Forces for their humanitarian aid in Rafah.
- "We killed 41 terrorists, found and destroyed three tunnels and a hole used for digging a tunnel. We arrested terror activists connected to the building of the tunnels."
Zakkai also said that:
- "56 structures have been demolished by the IDF. Most of the buildings that were destroyed were sites of firing upon IDF forces and others were demolished because they were used for preparing explosives. Additionally, some buildings were damaged because IDF forces were forced to go through them in order to avoid explosive charges on the streets. Among the houses demolished is the house of the terrorist who murdered Tali Hatuel and her 4 daughters."16-17
Palestinians report that 55 people were killed but claim that "only 12 were known to be armed". They also said more than 70 houses were demolished.
On 29 September, after a Qassam rocket hit the Israeli town of Sderot and killed two Israeli children, the IDF launched Operation Days of Penitence in the north of the Gaza Strip. The operation's stated aim was to remove the threat of Qassam rockets from Sderot and kill the Hamas militants launching them. The operation ended on 16 October, leaving widespread destruction and more than 100 Palestinians dead, at least 20 of whom were under the age of 16. Thirteen-year-old Iman Darweesh Al Hams was killed by the IDF; some reports claimed a commander had deliberately fired his automatic weapon at her dead body, but the soldier was cleared of all charges. According to Palestinian medics, Israeli forces killed at least 62 militants and 42 other Palestinians believed to be civilians. According to a count performed by Haaretz, 87 combatants and 42 non-combatants were killed. Palestinian refugee camps were heavily damaged by the Israeli assault. The IDF announced that at least 12 Qassam launchings had been thwarted and many terrorists hit during the operation. Three Israelis also were killed, including one civilian.
See also 
||This article uses bare URLs for citations. (February 2012)|
- "Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip". Human Rights Watch. Archived from the original on 24 March 2006. Retrieved 29 March 2006.
- "The Day the Tanks Arrived at Rafah Zoo". Commondreams.org. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- Cowell, Alan (2004-05-22). "In Gaza, Bodies, Rubble and a Lost Zoo - New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. 2004-05-29. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "Sunday, May 23, 2004 Briefing - Gaza Division Commander, Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai". IMRA. 2004-05-23. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "10 Palestinians Killed as Israeli Army Fires on Protest Against Bloody Raid". Commondreams.org. 2004-05-19. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "At Least 10 Dead as Gaza Crowd Hit by Gunfire". Fox News. 2011-11-30. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- [dead link]
- By Kirk Semple And Alan Cowell (2004-05-23). "At Least 2 Hamas Members Are Reportedly Killed in Nablus". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- Hasson, Nir (2008-04-02). "UNRWA: 45 homes razed in Rafah during Operation Rainbow - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/news/news-mideast-rafah.html
|url=missing title (help).
- Service, Haaretz (2008-04-02). "IDF says it is not preventing medical aid entering Gaza - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- "הסתיים המבצע ברפיח. החיילים עזבו את העיר - וואלה! חדשות". News.walla.co.il. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- McGreal, Chris (16 October 2004). "Army pulls back from Gaza leaving 100 Palestinians dead". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 April 2010.
- "Moral Quagmire". The Jewish Week. 3 December 2004. Retrieved 17 May 2007.
- "Israeli army under fire after killing girl". Christian Science Monitor. 26 November 2004. Archived from the original on 13 May 2007. Retrieved 17 May 2007.
- "Palestinians sift rubble after Israel's Gaza assault". Reuters. 16 October 2004. Retrieved 17 May 2007.
- Note:16-17 Haaretz translation differs little from what appears here and has some mistakes in content.
- Summary Of Briefing Held 24 May 2004 By GOC Southern Command/Reference to: Palestinian Terrorists kills Palestinian Children
- Briefing - Gaza Division Commander, Brigadier-General Shmuel Zakai
- PMW:PA called "Women, Children and Elderly" to Wednesday's Battle
- IDF Humanitarian aid in Rafah (Israeli Defence Force statement)
- Haaretz report - UNRWA: 45 housed were razed. IDF: we killed 40 terrorists, Palestinians killed 2 children.
- Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip - Human Rights Watch