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For both Hamas and Israel, there are reasons to escalate (+video)

For Hamas, a fear that capitulation will hurt their standing more than defiance. For Israel, it's a question of making good on public threats.

By Staff writer / November 16, 2012

Palestinian firefighters try to extinguish a fire after an Israeli air strike on the building of Hamas's Ministry of Interior in Gaza City, Nov. 16.

Mohammed Salem/Reuters

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Israel and Palestinian militants in the besieged Gaza Strip are veering dangerously close to getting locked into a cycle of retaliation and revenge that could run for weeks.

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Staff writer

Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.

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Though many are wondering why both sides don't simply stand down now to avoid further loss of innocent life (since, after all, it's fairly clear that a major shift in the status quo will be the outcome of the bombardments that are now in their third day), the grim logic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is convincing men on both sides that more death is what's needed now to secure their own interests.

For Hamas, the Islamist militant group and political party that has governed Gaza separately from the West Bank based Palestinian Authority since 2007,the pressure comes in weighing its reputation of resistance and endurance against the mounting human cost to civilians. Standing down completely, capitulation, would look weak to many of its supporters, perhaps opening a door for other militant groups in the Gaza Strip, like Islamic Jihad, to accrue more power for themselves.

For Israel, the costs in life to its own side are lighter than for its much weaker foe, but still serious enough. Three Israeli civilians died when a rocket hit their apartment building in Kiryat Malachi in southern Israel on Thursday morning. (See the Monitor's report from Kiryat Malachi Thursday.) Meanwhile, 19 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli mortar and air strikes, the balance of them civilians, since the war began on Wednesday.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet have in some ways locked themselves into a broader conflict, based on the public logic they have provided in the past few days: Rockets from Gaza are intolerable, and force must be used to stop them. Since there have now been 500 or so rockets fired at Israel since the assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmad Jabari on Wednesday, compared with 723 in total fired in the first 10 months of the year, that logic of escalation of force calls for yet more escalation. 

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