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Tragedy in Gaza

The confrontation between Israel and Hamas on the Gaza Strip can come to no good end. Friends of both Israel and the Palestinian people should urge an early truce before the bloody violence escalates further with tragic consequences.

As the aerial assault in Gaza entered its third day, it has become clear that the Israelis are determined not to stop until Hamas ends its rain of rockets that has paralyzed life in some southern Israeli towns in recent days.

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But with more than 300 Palestinians, including at least 50 civilians, already killed by Israeli bombs, and a ground assault increasingly likely, there has been widespread international condemnation of the scale of the attacks and pleas to both sides for at least a temporary halt in the fighting.

The Bush administration, some moderate Arab leaders and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls only the West Bank, have all blamed radical Hamas leaders in Gaza for the breakdown of a six-month cease-fire that led to the renewed conflict.

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Still, Bush aides are cautioning the Israelis to avoid civilian victims. And it is difficult to see a clean victory in the Israeli effort to end the rocket attacks from Gaza when that territory's population is held hostage in the showdown, suffering from a lack of food, fuel and adequate medical care.

As the struggle unfolds, the Israeli army could find itself trapped in the kind of grueling stalemate that forced a withdrawal from Lebanon after what seemed at first to be a successful invasion aimed at ending rocket attacks and murderous Hezbollah raids across the northern border.

The continuing showdown in Gaza is also likely to present a serious challenge to President-elect Barack Obama, who pledged while seeking office to restore America's reputation around the world. Muslims have expressed hopes that Mr. Obama might find a way to broker a permanent Mideast peace. But that challenge could become unattainable for years unless a way is found to bring an early halt to the fighting. And it's hard to imagine how that can be achieved without both Palestinians and Israelis pledging cease-fire as a vital first step.



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