As Gaza offensive intensifies, Israel enjoys unusual international support
European governments as well as the US are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel over the conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip – drawing the ire of the Muslim world.
Jerusalem; and Paris
UPDATE 12:40 p.m. A cease-fire is set to begin at 2 p.m. E.T ( 9 p.m. local time) between Israel and Hamas, according to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr. More details to come shortly.Skip to next paragraph
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As Israel begins the second week of its offensive against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, it is enjoying unusual international support. Usually the target of criticism in Europe when it goes to war with Palestinians, Israel has seen the European Union stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the US this time in support of Israel, and in placing blame on Hamas.
Today’s bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv is generating more support for Israel. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned "in the strongest terms" the Tel Aviv attack for "targeting civilians at a time when everything must be done to reach a cease-fire" and vowed to meet with his Israeli, Egyptian, and American counterparts again today.
The bombing has made a cease-fire less likely. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and various foreign ministers have descended on the region to hasten an agreement, though prospects are dimming. Last night, Hamas and Egyptian officials were claiming that a truce was agreed, and later blamed Israel for scuttling the deal at the last minute.
But even as international pressure has been mounting for a cease-fire, the US, the UN, and the European Union have been careful to emphasize that Israeli citizens cannot be expected to live under a barrage of rocket fire.
“One thing is clear: The cause of this escalation is the rocket fire from Gaza to Israel’s south. That cannot be justified,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said yesterday in Jerusalem. “The Israeli government does not have to live with this; it has the right to protect its civilian population.”
Israeli officials credit Israel’s application of lessons learned from its 2008-09 Cast Lead operation, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead and reduced much of Gaza’s infrastructure to rubble, for their current international support.
“I think this is a little bit longer than the average period that was given to us,” says Nachmann Shai, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense committee with a long career in representing Israel’s interests to the world. “The United Nations gave us generously some time to take care of the terror,” he says, adding that there were clear expectations that Israel was to do its best to avoid civilian casualties and refrain from collective punishment measures.
In comparison with Cast Lead, Israel has relied more heavily this time on precision weapons to limit casualties, refrained from a ground invasion, and coordinated a massive public relations campaign, enlisting some 25,000 volunteers to explain to the world why Israel took action against Hamas-run Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which is launching a new social media branch in February, has been very engaged on Twitter, sparring with Hamas’s military wing and posting photos of injured Israeli children to counter images of Palestinian suffering.