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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.

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As the first week of the operation came to a close yesterday, the Palestinian death toll was far lower than it was a week into the Cast Lead operation, despite a greater number of air strikes this time around – 1,500 compared with about 800. The Palestinian death toll as of last night stood at 113, roughly a third of the total death toll after the first week of Cast Lead, when some 400 Palestinians had been killed. The percentage of Palestinian casualties deemed to be civilians varies widely, from 30 to 50 percent, depending on the source.

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Five Israelis have been killed since the start of Pillar of Defense, compared with four after the first week of Cast Lead.

American and European leaders' support for Israel has raised the ire of the Muslim world, which is strongly critical of Israel’s targeted assassinations of militants in the Gaza Strip, the collateral damage caused by such strikes, and its restrictions on goods and people flowing in and out of Gaza.

The Iranian government channel Press TV faulted German Foreign Minister Westerwelle for “turning a blind eye to the Israeli aggression.”

In the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday, Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee criticized a statement put out by the European Union for its  “glaring absence of any reference to the illegal siege of Gaza and its people,” saying it showed “a lack of will that is necessary to bring an end to such injustice.”

And from Saudi Arabia, radio journalist Samar Fatany – a prominent voice for reform in the kingdom – criticized the “over-exaggerated fear of Palestinian rockets,” saying that such attacks have done “little damage” compared to Israeli policies such as “brutal Israeli airstrikes, the Gaza blockade, the Israeli settlement expansion, the imposed sanctions and boycotts, the erection of the racist separation wall, the banning of construction of Palestinian homes, the closing of Palestinian institutions, the imposition of heavy taxes and the loss of Palestinian livelihood by uprooting olive trees and confiscating land.”

One consideration that may have been holding Israel back from a ground invasion was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire for as much European support as possible when Palestinians go to the UN next week to press for upgrading their status to “observer state.”

If the Palestinian bid were to get strong support from EU countries, Mr. Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would see that as a “major defeat,” said veteran Israeli diplomat Alon Liel, speaking by phone prior to the Tel Aviv bombing. With nearly 40 European countries still making up their minds about how to vote, “there is a limit to how much Israel can annoy the Europeans now,” he said.   

French Foreign Minister Fabius said at a press conference last night that France doesn’t have a position yet on whether it will back or oppose the PLO's bid to obtain observer status at the United Nations on Nov. 29. He said France will make a decision once it knows what the positions of other European countries are, and after reading the resolution containing the bid. However, he said the timing of the Palestinian bid is awkward given the current conflict.

“It doesn’t seem to us that this moment is the best,” he said.

That appears even more true in the wake of today’s bombing in Tel Aviv, the first terrorist attack in the city since 2006.

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