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Regional Volatility Complicates Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

  • Henry Ridgwell

Israeli warplanes are continuing to pound targets in Gaza, as Hamas militants fire rockets deep into Israeli territory. The violence was sparked by the abduction and murder of three Israelis in Gaza last month, and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager. The volatile situation across the Middle East region is serving to further complicate the long-standing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel has named this "Operation Protective Edge." Israeli warplanes are targeting dozens of buildings and sites in Gaza which they claim are used by Hamas militants to plan and launch rocket attacks across the border. Those rockets are reaching deeper into Israel - as far as 100 kilometers from the Gaza border.

One attack forced an Israeli wedding party to run for cover. Israel says it may respond to the rocket attacks with a ground invasion. Mark Regev is spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Our goal, our overriding goal is to safeguard the people of Israel and to end the launching of rockets from Gaza on our citizens," said Regev.

The escalating violence is a sign of political weakness on both sides, says Professor of International Relations at Regents University London, Yossi Mekelberg.

“Netanyahu is under pressure from the more right-wing in his government, the Bennetts and Liebermans of his coalition. Hamas is weak because they were forced to leave Damascus, and because of the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt," said Mekelberg.

The Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo was forced from power last year by the military. Its replacement under Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has attempted to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians - and could yet play a key role, says Middle East analyst Sharif Nashashibi.

“This, particularly now, would suit Sissi because as a new president his credentials are rather shaky with Western leaders. So I think this would be an opportunity for him to come out firstly looking strong and with authority to his own people, but showing the West that he is a pivotal player in the region," said Nashashibi.

Hamas will be looking for regional support, but in neighboring Syria the balance of power has swung against the Palestinian faction, says Nashashibi.

“Hamas came out in support of the revolution against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, so they had to leave Syria. That cost them Iranian support, which was substantial at the time. And the recent deal within the Gulf Cooperation Council members regarding the dispute with Qatar has been sorted out, and there is speculation that that may mean a softening of Qatari support for Hamas," he said.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused the international community of staying silent amid Israeli aggression.

“Knowing and seeing the indications of what the Israeli government is doing, and the lack of genuine international response to this, puts us in a situation to expect the worst," said Erekat.

But the West is reluctant to get deeply involved, says Yossi Mekelberg.

“As long as the level of casualties remains low, I think both the Europeans and the Americans will allow the Israelis to keep their military campaign to weaken Hamas, especially the military wing. Then they might want something in return politically, diplomatically," he said.

Hamas has said it will halt its rocket attacks if Israel ends the airstrikes on Gaza. So far neither side appears willing to make the first move.

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