Egyptian PM slams Israel as commentators fear ground war
Hisham Qandil calls on world to 'take responsibility' in stopping Israel's 'unacceptable aggression'
FRESH exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas militants made a mockery of today's three-hour ceasefire called by both sides in the Gaza crisis for a visit by the Egyptian Prime Minister to the territory, suggesting the conflict may yet escalate into a ground war.
During his visit, Hisham Qandil condemned Israeli action against Gaza as "unacceptable aggression", saying his country will intensify efforts to secure a truce in the conflict.
"This tragedy cannot pass in silence and the world should take responsibility in stopping this aggression," he said after visiting victims of air strikes at Gaza City's Shifa hospital. Twenty-one Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed since hostilities began on 14 November.
The escalating conflict in Gaza is following a familiar pattern, writes Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian and its only result will be to "sow hatred in the hearts of yet another generation".
It was predictable that an Israeli government about to face an election would hit back hard against Hamas rocket fire, but "there can be no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides will say the action they have taken is necessary. But it will solve nothing."
Opinion is divided in Israel between supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's tough stance and those who fear the conflict will only destablise the region.
Writing in the Jerusalem Post, defence correspondent Yaakov Lapin says the assault on Gaza has put the ball in Hamas's court. "If it chooses to continue to lash out at Israel's civilians, it could find itself face-to-face with a ground offensive, a development that would take the current operation to a new level."
But the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz questions the "fruitless" assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari, the act that triggered the current crisis. It was a strategic mistake, the paper says, and "the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas is likely to make the situation in the entire region deteriorate."
The Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds decries the assassination of Jabari, saying there was no justification for the killing besides the impending Israeli election and a desire to look tough. Israel "chose to set the region ablaze militarily and politically", the paper says. "At a time when Hamas and the other forces expressed readiness to abide by the truce, the Israeli government made its party and electoral considerations top priority and thus decided to escalate the situation."
An editorial in the New York Times expresses the paper's view that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas rockets, but questions whether the military operation will advance the country's long-term interests. "It [the air attacks on Gaza] has provoked new waves of condemnation against Israel in Arab countries, including Egypt, whose cooperation is needed to enforce the 1979 peace treaty and support stability in Sinai.
"The action also threatens to divert attention from what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly described as Israel's biggest security threat: Iran's nuclear programme."