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2008年12月30日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 29(IHT/Asahi: December 30,2008)

EDITORIAL: Israeli airstrikes on Gaza


Israel's airstrikes that started Saturday on Gaza, a strip of Palestinian territory, killed more than 200 people on its first day alone, a horribly high death toll for just one day of raids.


The Israeli military says it is only targeting bases and facilities of the radical Islamist group Hamas. But it is virtually impossible to launch attacks against the militants while avoiding civilian casualties in this densely populated area.


Israel describes the military campaign as an anti-terrorist war against extremists, but it is an action that outrageously makes light of human lives.


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the European Union called for an immediate cease-fire, while an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council was convened. The international community must first put strong pressure on Israel to stop its military operations.


Since summer last year, Israel has been imposing a tough economic blockade on Gaza, which is effectively ruled by Hamas. In response, Hamas started firing handmade rockets into southern Israeli cities. Israel and Hamas agreed on a cease-fire in June, but it expired on Dec. 18. Hamas then resumed its rocket attacks, triggering the large-scale Israeli aid raids.


Hamas' rocket attacks should be denounced. Although the rockets are neither very powerful nor accurate, it is easy to imagine how their unpredictable trajectories can terrorize Israeli citizens.


Still, Israel's military response, said to be the country's most lethal air attack since the 1967 Middle East War, is too rash an act and should be criticized as an "excessive use of force," as U.N. Secretary-General Ban has described it.


There are internal and external political factors behind Israel's tough action at this juncture.


Domestically, Israel will hold a general election in February. Recent opinion polls have shown the ruling coalition of the Kadima and Labor parties trailing Likud, which is known for its hard-line stance toward the Palestinians. The ruling alliance may be trying to regain public support by taking tough military action against Hamas.


An external political factor is the change of the U.S. administration next month. The current administration of President George W. Bush, who launched a war against terrorism, will be replaced by the new administration of Barack Obama, who has been stressing the importance of dialogue and cooperation in foreign policy.


It is conceivable that Israel is trying to discourage Obama from adopting too conciliatory a posture toward the Palestinians.


Israel has said it will continue its attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza, while Hamas has vowed retaliation. A wave of anger against Israel's airstrikes is spreading in the Arab world. This conflict must not be allowed to expand and escalate further.


In the summer of 2006, Israel launched airstrikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon and then invaded the country. The war, which was also triggered by armed clashes in Gaza, left more than 1,000 Lebanese dead.


Containing the crisis requires the U.S. government to exercise strong diplomatic leadership. Washington needs to get Israel to end its attacks on Gaza and then persuade Arab nations to use their influence over Hamas to engineer a new truce.


The United States has consistently sided with Israel in the U.N. Security Council and other diplomatic venues. But a continued bloody conflict in the Middle East will result in continued suffering for Israel. If the United States considers itself a real friend of Israel, it should make all-out efforts to persuade the country to end the military campaign.



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