As I write this on the morning of July 12, the news from Palestine and Gaza is one of death and destruction raining down upon a hapless people. The death toll has now gone over 100 with about 600 injured. Of these, according to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, 10 were their operatives, suggesting that 90 were civilians, many of them children, women and the elderly. Little consolation can be derived from the fact that Hamas and other groups in Gaza were able to launch 100 rockets on the fourth day of the Israeli bombing and that their range allowed them to reach Tel Aviv and other cities deep inside Israel.
The rockets, however, are inaccurate, and so far, no damage has been done in Israel. As against the casualties in Gaza, the number of people treated in Israeli hospitals is said to be 123, of whom, over a 100 were suffering only from shock and anxiety. This mirrors the sort of figures one has, unfortunately, become used to seeing in past conflicts. In 2012, 167 Palestinians were killed, of whom less than half were combatants, while on the Israeli side only six people were killed — all from the Israeli Defence Forces. In 2008-09 again, 1,166 Palestinians died while 13 Israelis were killed.
It is no wonder that in his TV address on July 11, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plaintively asked without mentioning Hamas by name: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” and maintained that he preferred to “fight with wisdom and politics”. His plea, however, has fallen on deaf ears, as has his other request for “the Security Council to quickly issue a clear condemnation of this Israeli aggression and impose a commitment of a mutual ceasefire immediately”. President Barack Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “the United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement” but there is little hope of any such ceasefire being agreed upon since Netanyahu has made it clear that a ceasefire with Hamas is “not even on the agenda” until the firing of rockets on Israel stops. He has warned Israelis to expect “further stages later on”.
Clearly, the painstakingly constructed agreement between Abbas and Hamas has become meaningless, but the political difficulties within Palestine are compounded by the disarray in the Arab world.
The situation in Iraq continues to go from bad to worse, with there being little prospect of an early agreement being reached on a new Shia prime minister to replace Nur al Maliki and relations between Baghdad and the Kurds deteriorating further as Kurdish ministers boycott cabinet meetings after being accused of providing sanctuary to rebel forces in Kurdish territory.
In Syria, Bashar al Assad’s forces seem to be advancing on Aleppo even while ISIS creates new fissures by capturing Kurdish-held territory along the border with Turkey.
In Yemen, a Shia tribe, the Houthi, has seized control of Amran, a province only 45 miles north of the capital from the hitherto dominant Sunni Hashid tribe. The Houthis have claimed that they were just trying to free the province from the clutches of al Qaeda and other extremist groups. For the Saudis, however, this will raise fears of Yemen falling under Shia control. Their full attention will be focused on helping Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Egypt may have helped, while ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, to broker the 2012 ceasefire, but its present government is suspicious of and hostile to Hamas. Hamas may have hoped that the abducting and subsequent killing of three Israelis, which prompted the present crisis, would secure the release of Hamas prisoners held by Israel or hopefully would, as a consequence of the expected Israeli response, trigger a third intifada. After incidents in Jerusalem, they had hailed what they called the start of the ‘Shuafat Intifada’.
There is little chance of that happening. Only further misery lies ahead for the Palestinians. It is a high cost to pay for Hamas to get some headlines and maybe a futile and temporary surge in popularity among some of the more desperate Gaza inhabitants.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2014.
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