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Israelis Press on in Gaza

Prepared by: Michael Moran
Updated: June 29, 2006

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Israeli forces arrested dozens of Hamas cabinet ministers and lawmakers (BBC) as they broadened their operation from the Gaza Strip into the West Bank. As troops scoured parts of Gaza (MSNBC) for an Israeli soldier abducted Sunday, Israel's attorney general pledged to prosecute many of the Hamas officials on charges of supporting terrorist bombings and other criminal acts (YNet). Minimal bloodshed was reported, but fears of escalation persist as Israeli gunners traded shells with Palestinian Qassam rocket launchers (Times Online) in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pledged not to stay longer than necessary in Gaza (Haaretz), which Israel vacated last summer. But in a sign of wider discontent about the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories, Olmert ordered warplanes to buzz the summer palace of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday. Syria shelters many radical Palestinian factions, including the hard-line Hamas leader tied to the abduction, Khaleed Meshal (Reuters).

As Israel mustered its strike force Tuesday, the Hamas-led Palestinian government and the once-dominant Fatah faction neared agreement (BosGlobe) on a way to bridge their differences over the recognition of Israel. Hamas, whose charter pledges Israel's destruction, so far denies any implicit recognition was on the table (al-Jazeera). Yet officials of both Palestinian factions said the Israeli incursion has helped to narrow the differences between them on the so-called "prisoners letter," which among other things recognizes Israel's right to exist in its pre-1967 borders (CSMonitor).

With Israeli troops now inside Gaza (NPR), however, the future of the initiative is uncertain. CFR fellow Henry Siegman tells CFR.org's Bernard Gwertzman that the results of the raid could seriously impact the governments of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli incursion comes after members of Hamas' military wing launched a cross-border raid on June 25, killing two Israeli soldiers and capturing one (CSMonitor). The attack, widely believed to have been ordered by Meshal, became as much of a burden as a bargaining chip for Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Some commentators said it also reflected a growing split between internal and external Hamas leaders. "The military wing [of Hamas] has placed a bomb in [Haniyeh's] hands, almost certainly without having consulted him beforehand," write Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in this Haaretz analysis.

The growing split is between the hard-line leadership of Hamas—Meshal in Damascus and Ahmed Jabari, leader of the movement's military wing in Gaza—and the elected leaders of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, who are seen as more moderate. International mediators working to secure the release of the Israeli soldier blamed Meshal (Haaretz) for refusing to release him. Haniyeh and Abbas—who have had more than their own share of differences—had sought after the raid to limit the damage and find a diplomatic way out of the crisis.

All this against the backdrop of a diplomatic dilemma: how (and whether) to treat a government led by a designated terrorist group, Hamas, recently the subject of a CFR.org Online Debate by an Israeli and a Palestinian. The decision by the United States, the European Union, and most other nations to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority government after Hamas' January election victory has caused deep economic hardship, as this Backgrounder explains. CFR Fellow Judith Kipper says this approach is radicalizing Palestinians who generally tell pollsters they want peace talks with Israel to resume. This CRS report looks at U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority since 1996. An EU report looks at widespread misuse of European aid over the past decade, and a British parliamentary report examines the implications of Hamas' time in power.

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