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Gaza under threat of major attack

Israel must refrain at all cost from using force again in the Occupied Territories

A LARGE-SCALE attack against Gaza is looking increasingly likely from the tenor of the comments being made by some Israeli politicians. The calls for military intervention in the Occupied Territories have not come in the wake of the attack in Jerusalem on Wednesday. They were simply given less coverage due to the international media's recent focus on uprisings throughout the Middle East, which took attention away from an escalation that had been building toward the end of last year.

Over the last three days, Israel has suffered an attack that killed a woman waiting for a bus. No group has yet claimed responsibility, although the Palestinian Authority has since arrested two members of Islamic Jihad. Israel responded with attacks on Gaza that left eight dead, four of them civilians, among them three children who were playing in front of their house.

Neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Defense Minister Ehud Barak seem prepared to repeat Operation Cast Lead, although they have blamed Hamas for launching more than 50 rocket attacks from Gaza. Hamas, which has not condemned the attack in Jerusalem, will for its own interests want to halt attacks on Israel by groups such as Islamic Jihad.

It now seems that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas, will not be visiting Israel as planned, a development that will further delay talks on the political reunification of the Occupied Territories. Israel advised Abbas not to undertake the visit, and is keen to avoid political reunification of the Occupied Territories as their separation gives it greater leverage.

The proof that Operation Cast Lead, during which Israel was accused of committing war crimes, produced nothing other than the death of some 1,400 civilians, is borne out by the fact that the country is again considering a massive military incursion against Gaza.

The territory is already subject to a medieval siege. But Israel must know that it achieved nothing through its previous invasion, and will achieve nothing through a new one. What's more, the situation has changed since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in neighboring Egypt. The new administration there has made it clear that it would not stand by if there were a new invasion of Gaza.

Israel seems unprepared to accept that its strategy of occupying and colonizing Palestinian territory has run its course. If it was unacceptable before the change of government in Egypt, it is now simply dangerous, and the more so if it continues to do so through measures that have prompted criticism and stupor from its traditional allies.

For the moment they are standing by Israel, but that could change. Another display of cruelty such as Operation Cast Lead would simply create a deeper crisis, and one with unpredictable, but deadly consequences.