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Israel-Hamas Conflict

The search for a cease-fire as the death toll mounts

With hundreds dead and thousands more wounded in the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, international efforts to press the pause button intensified as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region on July 21. He was there to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who are trying to come up with the right formula for a cease-fire. Regional powers Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and Iran are also in the fray, as is the European Union, which called on Hamas to disarm.

On July 23, Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction joined forces with Hamas in April to form a unity government–a move that led Israel to suspend U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. The two Palestinian factions came together after a rift in 2007 that left Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip while Fatah held sway in the West Bank.

But despite the international efforts, the prospect of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians remained dim. While Abbas has called on Hamas to stop the rocket attacks that caused Israel to launch the ongoing military operation on July 8, outrage over the bloodshed in Gaza has also led Abbas to close ranks with the militant group and endorse its demands. Chief among them is the call for an end to the near total blockade of Gaza imposed by both Israel and Egypt.

“The Gaza demands of stopping the aggression and lifting the blockade in all its forms are the demands of the entire Palestinian people, and they represent the goal that the Palestinian leadership has dedicated all its power to achieve,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official who advises Abbas, said as Kerry met with leaders from both sides.

Hamas also wants Israel to release approximately 50 of its members, all of whom were set free as part of a prisoner exchange in 2011 but were re-arrested last month while the Israeli government pursued the Palestinians responsible for kidnapping and murdering three Israeli teens in the West Bank.

To resolve the issues, Abbas has backed a call for a truce followed by five days of negotiations between the two sides.

For its part, Israel is of two minds. With 32 Israeli soldiers killed and about 130 wounded in the first few days of a ground operation, many in the country are keen for a cease-fire deal. Moreover, with many international flights to and from Israel suspended–on July 22, American aviation authorities temporarily barred U.S. commercial flights from flying to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport following a nearby rocket attack–and citizens in the south and center of the country running into bomb shelters day and night, the nation’s sense of normality has begun to evaporate.

At the same time, there are many in Israel’s military and political establishment who argue that their mission to destroy Hamas’ arsenal of rockets and its network of underground tunnels is far from accomplished. Cutting that mission short, they argue, gives the militant group a grace period in which to rearm.

“We’ve agreed in the past to lift restrictions, but the key to that is nonviolence,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, told TIME.

With little sign of a cease-fire agreement, the conflict continued to exact a grim toll. Almost 700 people–the majority of them Palestinians–had been killed by July 23, leaving the air heavy with a bitterness that only served to further harden positions on both sides.



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This appears in the August 04, 2014 issue of TIME.

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