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As It Continues Attacks on Gaza Strip, Israel Is Poised for a Long Fight

Death toll rises as Israel assaults targets in Hamas-run Gaza Strip, including a security compound and a group of smugglers' tunnels.
Gaza

At one point Sunday evening, hundreds of Gazans seeking to escape the territory attempted to breach the southern border wall that separates the coastal strip from Egypt. The crowd was largely turned back by Egyptian security officers, who fired their weapons and clashed with the Palestinians. Egyptian state television reported that a Hamas gunman shot and killed an Egyptian border guard.

Egypt brokered the recent cease-fire, despite deep mistrust between Hamas and the Egyptian government of President Hosni Mubarak, who fears that Islamist extremism in Gaza could spill over into his country and pose a political threat.

Across the Middle East, Arabs rallied Sunday in indignation at the scale of the Gaza attacks and the loss of life. But the response itself illustrated the divide that persists in the Arab world between popular anger and the ambivalence of Arab governments toward Hamas. As in 2006, when the response of most Arab governments to Israeli attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon was muted, so it was again with Hamas, a movement largely marginalized in official circles in the Middle East.

The point was not lost on protesters in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, where tens of thousands of people marched. Many carried banners condemning Israel and what they called "Arab silence" over the second day of the Israeli strikes.

Even Hamas's nominal allies found themselves in an awkward position. Syria is engaged in its own negotiations with Israel to recover the Golan Heights, which it lost in the 1967 war. Iran, too, is waiting to see what the incoming Obama administration will bring to long-fitful diplomacy in the Middle East. Syria on Sunday announced it was suspending its indirect peace talks with Israel.

Iran has been a major backer of Hamas, and on Sunday, the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on all Muslims to "defend the defenseless women, children and people in Gaza in any way possible," adding: "Whoever is killed in this legitimate defense is considered a martyr."

Hamas officials echoed that call to action against Israel, warning of possible suicide operations. The Islamist movement's top leaders in Gaza remained in hiding Sunday, fearing they might be targeted.

"Even if they hang us and our blood spreads on the streets of Gaza, and even if our bodies are dismembered . . . we will not make concessions and we will not retreat," Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's leader in Gaza, said in televised remarks.

Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, refused to join that call and blamed Hamas for the failure of the cease-fire.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Abbas still holds sway, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, and two protesters were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers.

"This is organized crime by the state against civilians, with the blessing of the world," said Mohammad Farahat, a Hamas leader in the West Bank.

The U.N. Security Council expressed "serious concern" Sunday over the situation in Gaza and called for "an immediate halt to all violence." Pope Benedict XVI also urged an end to the violence, saying "the native land of Jesus cannot continue to be witness to so much bloodshed, repeating itself without end."


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