Israeli soldiers move into position during clashes with
Palestinian protesters near Qalandiya checkpoint on the
edge of the West Bank city of Ramallah March 16, 2007. Such
clashes continue to this day. Photo by Reuters.
The eyes of the world are fixed on the volatile situation
in the Middle East, as fighting between Israel and the Gaza
Strip intensifies and Egypt attempts to broker a truce. The
Jewish state of Israel last week killed Ahmed al-Jabari, a
commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamist party
that governs the coastal Palestinian territory of the Gaza
The strike was part of a campaign, named Operation Pillar of
Defence, Israel said was aimed at ending years of rocket fire
from the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of Israeli air strikes have
targeted weaponry, Hamas government buildings, police
headquarters, media offices and militants' homes and
headquarters, and a ground invasion is looking increasingly
Hamas said the assassination "had opened the gates of hell"
and Gaza has fired hundreds of rockets in retaliation,
including strikes against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Inevitably, civilians have been caught in the crossfire.
Dozens have been killed in Gaza and hundreds wounded, and in
Israel there have been several deaths and dozens wounded.
Israel's vastly superior military might includes its Iron
Dome missile interceptor system, and it has mobilised 75,000
World leaders and the United Nations have called for an end
to the escalating violence. The best hope for a truce comes
from current negotiations between Egypt's President Mohamed
Morsi and Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and Hamas leader
Ismail Haniyeh. Egypt successfully negotiated a previous
truce, but there is a balancing act this time. At play is
pressure on the newly elected Islamist president (whose
government is allied with Hamas) to be tough, Egypt's
billion-dollar-plus annual aid package from the United
States, and the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt,
fundamental to Middle East stability.
At the same time, French President Francois Hollande, British
Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders have
talked to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in
attempts to calm the situation.
The violence comes just as there were hopeful signs of
progress in the bloody civil war in Syria, with the formation
of a National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary
Forces, a government-in-exile aimed at ending President
Bashar al-Assad's regime and implementing steps towards
democracy as achieved in other states following the "Arab
Spring" uprising. The coalition of rebel groups has the
backing of Gulf states, the US and France. While there is no
certainty the coalition can achieve its aims, a general
Middle Eastern conflict would likely consign them to history.
But, of course, the issues between Israel and the Palestinian
territories go deep, are long-standing and are all too easily
It is clear there needs to be ongoing commitment to a lasting
peace from both sides. Israel has alternately said it wants
calm, but then talked tough. Vice-prime minister Moshe Yaalon
said at the end of last week: "If Hamas says it understands
the message and commits to a long ceasefire, via the
Egyptians or anyone else, this is what we want. We want quiet
in the south and a strong deterrence."
But only a couple of days later Mr Netanyahu said at a
cabinet meeting: "We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas
and the terrorist organisations and the Israel defence forces
are prepared for a significant expansion of the operation."
Actions certainly speak louder than words and the attacks
from both sides have intensified, with Hamas military
spokesman Abu Ubaida saying: "This round of confrontation
will not be the last against the Zionist enemy and it is only
The words are chilling, and it is to be hoped they are not
prophetic. The leaders working to achieve peace have the
weight of history on their shoulders and the eyes of the
world upon them. For the sake of civilians on the ground in
Gaza and Israel in particular - and the stability of the
Middle East in general - it is essential they find a way to
resolve the escalating conflict.
Until then, the world's citizens can only look on helplessly
and with increasing trepidation.