Ground war in Gaza

Our view: U.S., allies should press for a cease-fire in Israeli-Hamas fight

January 07, 2009

The overnight summary of the Israel Defense Forces operations in the Gaza Strip highlights the targets successfully hit: a senior Hamas leader and architect of the group's rocket groups, several gunmen, two weapons factories and 13 storage sites, two smuggling tunnels and the homes of four Hamas commanders. What the combat tally omits is the 58 Gazans killed yesterday and the scores of women and children wounded in punishing air strikes now in their 11th day. Israel's military objective, the legitimacy of its cause - to defend its people and halt Hamas' terrorizing rocket attacks on Israeli cities - is being eclipsed by the devastation experienced by Palestinian civilians who are trapped in an impoverished peninsula with no escape. And the rockets are still falling in southern Israel.

Israel didn't start this war, but it won't win it either. Not where it needs to be won, among Palestinians who never seem to blame Hamas for its provocative assaults against Israeli towns that leave them vulnerable to the crushing firepower that the world has witnessed this past week. With nearly 600 Palestinians dead and a humanitarian crisis unfolding, Israel can't continue to ignore requests for a cease-fire.

Israel has surely crippled Hamas in this operation and reasserted its military prowess after an embarrassing performance against Hezbollah fighters in south Lebanon two years ago. But like their Lebanese allies, Hamas fighters launch their operations and Iranian-supplied rockets from densely populated cities and refugee camps. That leaves Gaza families exposed; they can't retreat to bomb shelters because there are none.

It's an intolerable situation for them, and though devised by Hamas militants, Israel bears the brunt of the blame for a disproportionate use of force. Still, Israeli officials are not deterred and have said the ground war begun this week won't be short. They should reassess their plan.

The more civilian casualties, the less likely Palestinian moderates on the West Bank and Arab leaders in the region who have rightly criticized Hamas for violating a recent six-month cease-fire will intervene with Hamas leaders in Syria to end the rocket attacks.

President-elect Barack Obama has deferred to President George W. Bush on this fight. But his Mideast experts should be working behind the scenes for a resolution of the conflict because in two weeks it will be his problem.

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