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Gaza airstrikes: why neither Israel nor Palestine wants to fight (With Photos)

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Palestinians examine damage at the site of an overnight Israeli army airstrike, in Gaza City, Friday, April 2, 2010. Israeli aircraft struck multiple targets in the Gaza Strip early Friday following a rocket attack on southern Israel. No injuries were reported.

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When two Israeli soldiers were killed by a Hamas rocket attack in Gaza last week, it was only a matter of time before Israel would respond.

Fears that this response would be ferocious were raised on Thursday after leaflets were dropped over Gaza warning of Israeli air strikes, an unusual step.

Yet when it came, the Israeli military action – delayed by the Passover holiday – was much more limited than some might have anticipated.

Despite threats of a new military offensive from Silvan Shalom, Israel’s deputy prime minister, the moderation of yesterday’s air strikes suggests that neither side is interested in resuming full-scale hostilities. Not yet, at any rate.

Israel is probably too fragile at present to risk the international fall-out that such action would inevitably entail.

When Israeli troops invaded southern Lebanon in 2006, they did so with the tacit support of the United States. Similarly, last year’s Gaza war came when Barack Obama had been elected US president but was yet to take office.

Over the past month the US-Israeli relationship has been badly strained in a row over the announcement of the construction of 1,600 Jewish settler homes in East Jerusalem during a visit to the state by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, to broker proximity talks between the Palestinian leadership and Israel. It seems inconceivable that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, would risk launching a new offensive in Gaza at a time when White House backing is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Nor does Hamas wish to provoke Israel unduly.

The movement’s chief priorities at present are political and military consolidation and it is still hoping to win major concessions from Israel in exchange for the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since 2006. Indirect talks have stalled, but a prisoner swap would sharply boost Hamas’s waning popularity in Gaza.

It is telling that Israel presented yesterday’s air strikes as a response not to the death of its two soldiers but to the upsurge in rocket attacks, which is undoubtedly causing concern in the Jewish state.

Yet Israeli commanders, in private at least, acknowledge that Hamas is attempting to rein in the factions behind the attacks. They say that while Israel has no choice but to respond, they will ensure that the response is proportionate.

The uneasy status quo will not hold forever. Hamas is rapidly rebuilding its arsenal. But that war is for the future – neither side wants to fight it just yet.

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A Palestinian man inspects the damage at a cheese factory which was targeted by an overnight Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on April 2, 2010. Israel threatened a widescale military operation against the Gaza Strip after a string of air strikes which injured three Palestinian children following rocket attacks from the enclave. Three Palestinian children — aged two, four and 11 — were hit by flying glass in one of the six overnight raids, said the head of the Palestinian emergency services in Gaza.

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A man looks at what Hamas officials say is a cheese factory destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City April 2, 2010. Israeli planes and helicopters mounted at least seven missile attacks on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Friday, destroying what a military spokesman described as Palestinian munitions sites.

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A Palestinian woman walks past the site of an overnight Israeli army airstrike, in Gaza City, Friday, April 2, 2010. Israeli aircraft struck multiple targets in the Gaza Strip early Friday following a rocket attack on southern Israel. No injuries were reported.

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Israeli soldiers stand guard as a Palestinian protester pulls a barbed wire fence separating them during a demonstration against Israel’s controversial separation barrier in the West Bank village of Maasarah near the Palestinian biblical town of Bethlehem on April 2, 2010. Israel says the network of steel and concrete walls, fences and barbed wire is needed for security while the Palestinians view it as a land grab that undermines their promised state.

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Palestinian demonstrators run for cover as Israeli soldiers fire teargas during a protest against Israel’s controversial separation barrier in the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah on April 2, 2010. Israel says the network of steel and concrete walls, fences and barbed wire is needed for security while the Palestinians view it as a land grab that undermines their promised state.

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Israeli soldiers scuffle with protesters during a demonstration by Palestinians and foreign peace activists against Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank village of Maasarah near the Palestinian biblical town of Bethlehem on April 2, 2010. Israel says the network of steel and concrete walls, fences and barbed wire is needed for security while the Palestinians view it as a land grab that undermines their promised state.

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Palestinian youths wave their national flag and set tyres on fire as they clash with Israeli soldiers at the border fence near Gaza City on March 30, 2010 during a protest marking Land Day. Land Day commemorates the killing of six Palestinians during a 1976 protest against land confiscation.

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Israeli soldiers stand guard as a Palestinian woman waves her national flag during a demonstration by Palestinians and foreign peace activists against Israel’s controversial separation barrier in the West Bank village of Maasarah near the Palestinian biblical town of Bethlehem on April 2, 2010. Israel says the network of steel and concrete walls, fences and barbed wire is needed for security while the Palestinians view it as a land grab that undermines their promised state.

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The father (L) of Israeli soldier Ilan Sviatkovsky and his brother Arik (C) mourn during his funeral in Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv March 28, 2010. Two Israeli soldiers, one of them Sviatkovsky, and two Palestinian militants were killed on Friday in the most deadly clash on the Israel-Gaza frontier since Israel ended an offensive there 14 months ago.

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Israeli soldiers react during the funeral of Israeli army Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky at the military cemetery in Rishon Letzion, central Israel, Sunday, March 28, 2010. Sviatkovsky was killed in a gunbattle with Palestinian militants in Gaza last Friday.

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JERUSALEM – MARCH 28: The sister, mother and wife of Major Eliraz Peretz,31, mourn during his funeral at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. on March 28, 2010 in Jerusalem, Israel. The Israeli officer was killed during a shootout with Gaza militants on friday.

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A paper cut-out figure of captured Israeli soldier Sgt. Gilad Schalit is seen backdropped by flags during a march calling for his release near Jerusalem’s Old City, Friday, April 2, 2010. Negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the release of Schalit, captured by Palestinian militants in 2006 and held by Hamas, are currently at a standstill.

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Israeli supporters of captured soldier Sgt. Gilad Schalit hold up banners during a march calling for his release near Jerusalem’s Old City, Friday, April 2, 2010. Negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the release of Schalit, captured by Palestinian militants in 2006 and held by Hamas, are currently at a standstill. Banners say “Gilad is still alive”.

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Israeli supporters of captured soldier Sgt. Gilad Schalit hold their hands crossed in a symbolic gesture to mime being handcuffed, during a march calling for his release outside Jerusalem’s Old City, Friday, April 2, 2010. Negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the release of Schalit, captured by Palestinian militants in 2006 and held by Hamas, are currently at a standstill.

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