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Violence Plagues Middle East

Prepared by: Esther Pan
July 5, 2006

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A week after an Israeli soldier was abducted by Palestinian militants, violence continues to spread in the Palestinian Authority (PA). The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert authorized further military operations in Gaza to find the missing soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Attacks by the Israeli Defense Forces have already destroyed significant sections of the PA's infrastructure, including bridges, roads, and Gaza's only power station (NYT). Israel also arrested more than thirty Hamas cabinet ministers and members of Parliament (al-Jazeera). Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who briefly went into hiding during the arrests, emerged to accuse the Israeli military campaign of hindering efforts to secure Shalit's release (Guardian). CFR Fellow Steven Simon tells CFR.org's Bernard Gwertzman that the crisis could drag on for some time, as it pits two new weak governments against each other.

The European Union called for Palestinian militants to release the kidnapped Israeli soldier and for Israel to show restraint (PDF) in its military actions. The U.S. government urged the Palestinians to stop all acts of violence and terror and called on Israel to protect civilian lives during its military campaign. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is leading an intensive diplomatic effort to mobilize other Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, to pressure Syria to help work for a solution. Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal is believed to have ordered the kidnapping, and to have authority over the militants holding Shalit (Independent). Meshal's ascendancy is seen by some experts as evidence of a serious division in Hamas between the Damascus-based hard-liners he leads and Haniyeh's Hamas government, which must operate within the Palestinian Authority. Christopher Hamilton of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says these splits are characteristic of terrorist organizations that attempt to become legitimate political parties.

Madi Abdul Hadi, chairman of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs warns that Israel's actions could pushing the Palestinians into a third intifada (Daily Star). A Haaretz editoral says the use of force has hurt Israel, and that the nation has no real option but to negotiate an end to the occupation. "We must acknowledge that every military tactic employed by Israel has given birth to no less creative and painful Palestinian tactics—suicide bombings, Qassam fire, tunnels—that have managed to harass and wear out the strongest state in the Middle East," the paper writes.

CFR Senior Fellow Henry Siegman tells Gwertzman in this interview that what happens to Shalit could affect the fates of both the Israeli and Palestinian governments. The Daily Star urges restraint on both sides in this editorial, saying that in the absence of a clear political process, both Israel and the Palestinians have resorted to merely reacting to the other's provocations. "All parties ought to recognize by now that retaliation does not lead to victory; it only leads to more death and destruction," the editorial says. The blog MidEastWeb says the current "impossible situation" was caused by the failure of both the occupation and the peace process. Amjad Atallah, a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, says at this Washington Institute symposium that the only way out is to empower PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian moderates.

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