Slaughter in Gaza
Two weeks into Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, what began as a limited intervention has expanded into a major campaign involving ground, sea and air forces that has already killed more than 500 people, three quarters of them innocent civilians. Almost all of the dead are Palestinians and they include dozens of children, although 18 Israeli soldiers have been killed in recent days. Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday promised that “the operation will continue to expand until its goal is achieved - restoring the calm to Israeli citizens for a long time”. He says that Israel has international backing for its actions in Gaza against a weakened Hamas that had run short of allies, funds and political support.
It is true that, after Hamas last week rejected a ceasefire brokered by Egypt, which Israel was willing to accept, many in the international community were unwilling to take Israel to task for continuing its bombardment of Gaza. Since then, however, Israeli forces have been responsible for a succession of outrages, starting with the killing of four boys playing football on a Gaza beach and culminating in last weekend’s assault on the densely populated Shejaja that killed more than 60 Palestinians, some of them children. Israel points out - correctly - that Hamas fires rockets into Israel indiscriminately, without regard for civilian lives. Mr Netanyahu claims that Israeli forces target their attacks carefully to avoid civilian casualties, warning civilians to leave areas about to be bombarded. Such claims are rendered meaningless, however, by the scale of the civilian deaths in Gaza during the past two weeks and the fact that many of those told to leave their homes have nowhere to go. As Human Rights Watch pointed out in a report last week, a warning does not make an otherwise unlawful attack lawful and attacks that do not or cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants are unlawful.
For its part, instead of suing for peace, Hamas has continued to send rockets into Israel and to engage with Israeli forces, in the hope of burnishing its credentials as the leading force in armed resistance to the occupation. Hamas rejected the Egyptian ceasefire proposal because the new regime in Cairo, which is hostile to the Islamist group, did not consult it. Now, a complex diplomatic effort involving the United States, Qatar, Egypt, Israel and both Palestinian factions offers the best hope of an end to the killing in Gaza. Hamas will not agree a ceasefire without some concessions that will ease the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza but Israel is refusing to offer more than the promise of talks offered under the Egyptian deal. The international community must step up its efforts to secure a swift and enduring ceasefire that will bring to an end the slaughter of the innocents we are witnessing in Gaza.